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Meet the Press Blog Archive

Catch up with Meet the Press blog posts from past years leading up to May 17, 2022
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

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Buttigieg becomes first major Democratic candidate to file for N.H. primary

CONCORD, N.H. — Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday became the first major presidential candidate to file for the first-in-the-nation primary ballot here in 2020, signing the official documents and handing over a $1,000 check to N.H. Secretary of State Bill Gardner.

As Buttigieg walked to the historic filing desk in Gardner’s office, cheering supporters lined up to greet the South Bend, Indiana mayor.

From now until November 15, every 2020 presidential candidate must file with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office in order to appear on the state’s primary ballot in February. This cycle marks the 100th anniversary of the state's presidential primary.

Most are expected to appear in person for the time-honored tradition, but surrogates may file on behalf of the candidates themselves. For example, Vice President Mike Pence is slated to file for President Donald Trump next week.

Moments after he sealed his spot, Buttigieg was asked if he’s ready to be president.

"We better be,” he said. “I think we've demonstrated to the country that we're ready to do this. And it feels like a lot of people out there are too, which is exciting."

Per tradition, Buttigieg then took questions from local media before visiting the state house gift shop, where he signed campaign merchandise to contribute to the locale’s collection of presidential campaign memorabilia. 

On his way out, Buttigieg crossed paths with a 4th grade class at the state house for a field trip and heard from students who said they hoped he would win the White House, with one student even seizing the moment in front of the cameras to “make a statement” and declaring he would want President Buttigieg to end world hunger. Buttigieg applauded the remarks before being hugged by a few of the students.

In an interview with NBC News, Buttigieg argued that voters should trust him on foreign policy, even over more experienced candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden.

"Around the world is people from new generations stepping up in leadership, many of them elected under the age of 40 as I would be,” he said. “I'm thinking about the President of France, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the new leader of El Salvador. Leaders from a new generation around the world shaping the future of geopolitics in a way that's going to be responsive to the 21st century."

Image: Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Buttigieg speaks in Durham
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at campaign town hall meeting at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. on Oct. 25, 2019.Brian Snyder / Reuters

During a brief rally outside the state house Wednesday, Buttigieg embraced the moment.

“We’ve been at it for a good year or so, but this — this feels different,” he told the couple hundred supporters gathered for the occasion. “We are officially a candidate in the New Hampshire primary for president of the United States.”

He reiterated the sentiment at his last event of the day at a town hall in Peterborough. 

“There's something about putting your name on that sheet of paper that reminds you that you are part of a tradition, that you are part of something bigger than even the 2020 presidential election,” Buttigieg said, “although it's hard to think of something much bigger in terms of consequence than what is about to happen in this country.”

Harris cuts staff and shifts focus to Iowa amid slump at polls

WASHINGTON — California Sen. Kamala Harris' presidential campaign is laying off "several dozen" staffers, moving field staff to Iowa and slashing pay to top campaign hands amid her recent decline in the polls.

Harris' campaign made the announcements in a memo released Wednesday from Juan Rodriguez, the campaign manager. 

In that memo, Rodriguez announced that the campaign will "reduce the size of our headquarters staff" in Baltimore while also shifting field staff from Baltimore, New Hampshire, Nevada and California to go "all in on Iowa."

The campaign’s South Carolina operation will remain unchanged.

“There are multiple ways to assess and move forward, and to ensure we’re incredibly competitive in Iowa, not only with a robust organizing campaign — we have more than 100 staff in the state and that’s not changing — and to make sure we have a strong paid media presence in those last days when people are marking their decision, and that requires tough decisions,” Harris campaign communications director Lily Adams told NBC News.

Harris, who joked at the end of last month that she was “moving to Iowa,” has spent 15 days in the Hawkeye State, making five trips there in October. The campaign memo also said Harris would be spending Thanksgiving there.

“She is determined to earn the support of every caucus goer she can in the next 96 days,” the memo said.

Rodriguez also wrote that he and all of the campaign's consultants will take pay cuts, and they will "trim and renegotiate contracts." 

Harris raised just under $12 million in the last quarter, but her fundraising efforts have put her behind frontrunners like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg. She spent almost $3 million more than her campaign took in during that quarter, which stretched from July through September. And she ended the quarter with $10.5 million in the bank and held $911,000 in debt.

Pro-Biden super PAC officially launches, calling for country to 'unite'

MAQUOKETA, IOWA —A new super PAC aimed at boosting Joe Biden’s candidacy launched Wednesday focused on a key plank of the former vice president’s platform: unifying the country at a time of division.

The new Unite The Country PAC debuted with a 60-second video featuring Biden in his own words appealing to bring the nation together and professing his optimism for the country’s future.

“It’s time to unite the country. Are you in?” the spot concludes.

The primary goal of the new organization, though, is to provide a much-needed financial shot in the arm for the fragile Democratic frontrunner, whose fundraising pass has lagged even as his campaign has continued to spend heavily. Biden allies argue that no other Democratic candidate is facing incoming fire both within his party and from President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.

In a statement announcing its formation, the super PAC said it will focus its efforts “on communicating to voters why Joe Biden is not only the best choice to defeat Trump in 2020, but is also the best candidate to restore honor and integrity to the White House and our nation on day one.”

“We know Joe Biden is the best candidate to defeat the President, but so does Donald Trump. We will not sit idly by while Trump spreads lies about a man who has served this country with honor and dignity,” said Steve Schale, a strategist for Unite the Country Strategist said.

Biden had personally disavowed the support of any outside super PAC even before launching his candidacy in April. But as supporters of the former vice president have expressed renewed concern about his ability to finance a long-term campaign, particularly with the GOP apparatus already training its significant war chest on him, his campaign relented, saying in a statement that “it is not surprising that those who are dedicated to defeating Donald Trump are organizing in every way permitted by current law to bring an end to his disastrous presidency.”

The board of the new Super PAC includes a number of veteran Democratic strategists and longtime Biden allies. Schale was a top official in President Obama’s campaigns in the key battleground state of Florida, and also played a role with an organization that sought to draft Biden into the 2016 race.

Schale told NBC News the focus of the PAC’s efforts would be making an affirmative case for Biden.

"We are here to talk about Joe Biden, and defend him from the unprecedented attacks from Trump, not to attack other Democrats,” he said. 

The organization’s board will be chaired by Mark Doyle, a former Biden aide and nonprofit CEO. Fellow Biden alumnus John MacNeil will serve as secretary, and Larry Rasky, who worked on Biden’s 1988 and 2008 campaigns, will serve as Treasurer.

Julianna Smoot, the deputy campaign manager for Obama’s 2012 campaign and the 2008 national finance director, will also play a key role.

Trump campaign launches $1 million anti-impeachment television campaign

WASHINGTON — President Trump's re-election campaign is out with a new television spot blasting impeachment as a "scam" and a "bunch of bull," as the president looks to sway public opinion in key Democratic primary states as well as some swing states pivotal to his own 2020 bid. 

The campaign started airing the ad Wednesday morning, shortly after the campaign booked $1.15 million in time across Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. from Oct. 30 through Nov. 5, according to spending data from Advertising Analytics. 

The breakdown: $400,000 of that total is booked for Nevada, $387,000 is booked for Pennsylvania, $257,000 is booked for Iowa, $64,000 is booked in Boston (which covers most of New Hampshire) and $42,600 is booked in Washington D.C.

In the spot, a smattering of speakers take turns lambasting impeachment in a variety of settings—at home, in offices, and on factory floors.

"Impeachment is a scam."

Impeachment is a bunch of bull."

"Impeachment is a joke."

"It’s a partisan witch hunt."

 "They can’t get over the fact that Donald Trump won. The Democrats are trying to overturn the election. Ignore how we voted. Donald Trump is an excellent president. Over 6 million new jobs. My job is here, not China. My paycheck is bigger. Black and Hispanic women are finally gaining. Donald Trump is my president." 

Public sentiment appears to be creeping toward supporting impeachment, but strong majorities voters are still not sold on removing Trump from office. 

Warren gets influential Iowa endorsement

WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has nabbed the endorsement of Iowa Democratic State Senator Zach Wahls, NBC News has learned.

Wahls, who first rose to national prominence in 2011 with an emotional speech defending his lesbian mothers, is now a rising star in Iowa Democratic politics. And at the age of 28, he could help energize younger voters in the Hawkeye State behind Warren’s presidential campaign.

Image: Elizabeth Warren
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., greets a student after speaking at an assembly at Roosevelt High School on Oct. 21, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall / AP

In a phone interview with NBC News Tuesday night Wahls said that, for him, the biggest themes of this race are both understanding how President Donald Trump won in 2016 and how Democrats can beat him in 2020. “I think Senator Warren offers the clearest explanation on both of those two points,” he said.

He described the Massachusetts senator as “infectiously optimistic about the future of the country."

"So many people want to feel good about politics again," he said, "and she makes you feel good about politics again.”

The Iowa state senator representing parts of Eastern Iowa met Warren in May, and the two have stayed in touch throughout the campaign. But he also cites a “personal connection” to the candidate in his endorsement reasoning: they’re both policy wonks.

He spotted a chart in an early announcement video for Warren that illustrated the diverging paths between worker productivity and hourly compensation. While the labels were hard to make out in the video, “I knew what it was,” Wahls, who has a degree in public policy, said with a laugh. “The first time [Warren] called me, that was most of the conversation,” he said.

Other 2020 candidates have appeared with Wahls over the course of this 2020 campaign. Over the summer, several Democratic presidential hopefuls — including South Ben Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar — appeared at a fundraiser for him.

The endorsement comes as Warren heads back to the state for several days of campaigning, and after receiving the endorsement of Iowa Native, now-California Democratic Rep. Katie Porter.

Yes, late-breaking and undecided voters do exist — and matter

WASHINGTON — In today’s highly polarized political times, you might think that undecided, late-breaking voters are an extinct species — akin to the passenger pigeon and the Dodo bird. 

But ahead of this November’s gubernatorial races in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi, the Democratic Governors Association believes they certainly exist. 

Image: BESTPIX - Voters In California Head To Polls To Cast Ballots In State's Primary Election
Voters cast their ballots at a lodge on June 5, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.Mario Tama / Getty Images

And the organization has built a polling model to measure how these late-moving voters might break on Election Day, as well as to determine how to target these voters and spend its final resources. 

“Attitudes aren’t fixed,” said Nick Gourevitch, partner and managing directorof the Global Strategy Group, who was one of the lead Democratic pollsters who created this model for the DGA. 

How the DGA model compared to actual results

Adjusting for late-breaking voter movement.

State Topline Margin Model-Adjusted Margin Actual Margin
Georgia +6 +1 -1
Maine +3 +6 +8
Nevada +1 +4 +4
New Mexico +6 +8 +14
Ohio -8 -3 -4
Oregon +1 +4 +6

“It is enough to make a difference in some places,” he added. 

The DGA and its pollsters developed this model after Kentucky’s surprising gubernatorial result four years ago, when Democratic internal polls — as well as the public ones — showed Democrat Jack Conway with a small but consistent lead. 

But Republican Matt Bevin won that contest — by nearly 9 points. 

After Bevin’s victory, the DGA’s pollsters conducted a post-election panel survey with respondents from previous polling, and they discovered two things. 

One, the undecided voters broke overwhelmingly for Bevin, the Republican. 

And two, a sizable number of Conway voters in their polling defected to Bevin and the GOP. 

After further studying this kind of late movement in the 2016 gubernatorial races of Indiana, Missouri, Montana and West Virginia, the DGA and its pollsters built a statistical model to better predict how these late-breaking voters can affect races. 

Part of the model is based on a simple question: would voters consider supporting the other candidate or is their choice locked in? The answers allow them to predict if particular voters might defect from their stated choice. 

And for undecided voters, the model uses information from the voter file, plus answers on other polling questions, to determine how they might break. 

A year later, the late-breaking model pretty much nailed the results in Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial race, which Democrat Ralph Northam ultimately won. 

The Democrats’ final internal pre-election tracking poll showed Northam with a 5-point lead over Republican Ed Gillespie, with a combined 8 percent saying they were undecided or supporting a third-party candidate. 

When the late-breaking model was added to those numbers, Northam’s lead over Gillespie grew to 11 points, 55 percent to 44 percent. 

He ended up winning by 9 points, 54 percent to 45 percent. 

The model also closely reflected the results of last year’s gubernatorial races in Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Maine and New Mexico. 

The takeaway? Undecided and late-breaking voters do matter. 

That was evident from the 2016 exit polls (when Trump overwhelmingly won voters who decided in the last week in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida), as well as the exit polls in 2018 (when Democrats won late-deciding voters by 6 points). 

And it’s evident from the Democrats’ polling model in their gubernatorial races, says Gourevitch, the Democratic pollster. 

“It’s definitely been helpful to us in terms of … knowing the range of possibilities and outcomes,” he said.

'Math to the madness:' Why the Trump campaign’s viral merchandise is actually priceless

When President Donald Trump debuted a new catchphrase at a Minneapolis rally this month, the crowd went predictably wild.

“By the way, what ever happened to Hunter? Where the hell is he?!” Trump asked the arena, referring to former Vice President Joe Biden’s eldest son, amid the controversy that launched an impeachment inquiry into the president and his dealings with Ukraine. “Hey fellas, I have an idea for a new T-shirt.”

Image: Hats supporting U.S. President Trump are displayed for sale at the Chicken Burn in Milwaukee
Hats supporting President Donald Trump are displayed for sale at the Chicken Burn, a picnic gathering of Republicans and conservatives, in Milwaukee on Sept. 8, 2019.Brian Snyder / Reuters file

Minutes later, the suggestion became a $25 reality. Before the event was over, the campaign website had a “LIMITED edition” piece of merchandise “while supplies last!” featuring the presidential query: “WHERE’S HUNTER?”

But the goal wasn’t just to sell thousands of inflammatory t-shirts. More valuable than any dollars brought in, according to aides, is the voter data associated with each item the campaign sells.

For months, the Trump campaign has been capitalizing on controversial events to attract and study donors, many of whom had never given to the 2020 team before. Critics have mocked the gimmicky sales but the campaign may be getting the last laugh.

“President Trump is a master of branding and marketing and his campaign is an extension of that. We try to reflect the President’s ability to cut through political correctness and seize on the news cycle,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said.

When plastic straw bans started to spread across the country, campaign manager Brad Parscale saw an opportunity to monetize.

“Liberal paper straws don’t work. STAND WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP and buy your pack of recyclable straws today,” an advertisement read. So far, the $15 packs of the Trump-branded straws have raised nearly $1 million for the campaign, making them the best-sellers of this kind of viral marketing machine.

That’s more than 60,000 orders, 40 percent of which were placed by new donors, according to a senior campaign official, meaning access to new voters and all sorts of information about them.

In September, after a hurricane map was altered with a black Sharpie to include Alabama, the Trump campaign decided to sell its own kind of thick black markers. For $15, supporters would get 5 fine-tip pens to “set the record straight!” for themselves, featuring — of course — the president’s gold autograph. Those haven’t sold as well as the straws, netting around $50,000, but it helped the campaign crystallize its strategy for converting outrage into retail information.

Last week, after Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said those with concern over political influence in the president’s foreign policy should “get over it,” the campaign seized on the phrasing and designed t-shirts with Trump’s signature hairdo over the letter “o.” 

All of those examples show the lengths to which the campaign has cashed in on the culture war.

They have also been extremely beneficial for the data operation, according to a senior campaign official, who said the information gleaned from the thousands of transactions is invaluable.

Though the total amounts from these sales is a tiny fraction of the $125 million brought in by the president’s whole re-election effort last quarter, the one-two punch of effective political messaging and data collection also helps the campaign identify potential groups and demographics to better target between now and Election Day.

Obtaining phone numbers, emails and physical addresses in this volume, with this ease, is essentially gold for any presidential campaign.

Capitalizing on the “smartest dumb ideas” is also a way to identify the most loyal supporters and then seek out others who may share their key characteristics or online habits, said one digital marketing expert who asked not to be identified because they are consulting with political campaigns. 

This strategy is a huge part of Parscale’s larger approach to collecting and using data. And it's a clear sign that the campaign is more focused on dominating in the digital arena than even four years ago.

Harvesting this kind of information demonstrates there is a “math to the madness” of these quick-turnaround items, according to the marketing expert.

The tchotchkes are easy and cheap to produce (all “Made in the USA”), while delivering nuanced insight into thousands of the president’s most ardent supporters, who would be critical to a potential second term victory.

The campaign can also cross-reference the information they gather from voter scores at the Republican National Committee and try to identify how many times they’ve voted in the past, for whom, and how.

Before he was elected, the president considered himself a master marketer. Perhaps the best example of this skill set is the now-iconic, signature red “Make America Great Again” hat. To date, the Trump campaign says it  has sold more than a million of them, for a grand total of $25 million.

And beyond the viral, news cycle-driven merchandise, the campaign also has consistently targeted the president’s political opponents in its apparel and accessories available for sale on the website.

Just this week, the campaign unveiled special Halloween-themed items that feature House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Rep. Jerry Nadler. D-N.Y., as witches, with a superhero-type Trump flying through the air over Washington D.C. The image is a play on the movie poster for “Hocus Pocus,” with the Trump team playfully labeling the line: “HOAXUS POCUS — Stop the Witch-Hunt!”

Steyer's TV ad spending in 2020 race reaches $30 million

WASHINGTON — Wealthy Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer has now spent nearly $30 million in TV and radio advertisements, according to ad-spending data as of Oct. 28 from Advertising Analytics.

Steyer’s spending over the airwaves is seven times greater than the second-biggest advertiser in the presidential race (President Trump’s re-election campaign) and 15 times greater than his nearest Democratic rival (South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg).

Image: Tom Steyer
Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer arrives to speak during a news conference on Jan. 8, 2018 in Washington.Carolyn Kaster / AP

Almost all of Steyer’s spending has been targeted in the early nominating states – $7.1 million in Iowa, $7 million in New Hampshire, $5 million in Nevada and $6.3 million in South Carolina – as the Democratic National Committee has used early-state and national polls to set the qualifications for upcoming debates.

So far, Steyer is one of nine Democrats who have qualified for the next debate, on Nov. 20 in Georgia.

The top overall advertisers, as of Oct. 28

  • Steyer: $29.7 million
  • Trump: $4.0 million
  • Buttigieg: $2.0 million
  • Sanders: $1.7 million

The top spenders in Iowa

  • Steyer: $7.1 million
  • Buttigieg: $2.0 million
  • Sanders: $1.7 million
  • Biden: $691,000

 

The top spenders in New Hampshire

  • Steyer: $7.0 million
  • Klobuchar: $514,000
  • Gabbard: $229,000

 

The top spenders in Nevada

  • Steyer: $5.0 million
  • Trump: $457,000

 

The top spenders in South Carolina

  • Steyer: $6.3 million
  • Trump: $549,000
  • Gabbard: $300,000

 

SOURCE: Advertising Analytics

Buttigieg and Castro open to conditioning Israel aid money to restricting settlement expansion

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Former Housing Sec. Julián Castro and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Monday suggested an openness to using U.S. aid as leverage to press Israel to halt its settlement expansion in the West Bank. 

The two were among a handful of Democratic presidential contenders who spoke at a conference hosted by the liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street in Washington. 

“We have a responsibility, and by the way we have mechanisms to do this, to ensure that U.S. taxpayer support to Israel does not get turned into U.S. taxpayer support for a move like annexation,” Buttigieg said from the stage, adding: “The problem of course with annexation is that it is incompatible with a two-state solution, and I believe ultimately moving in that direction represents moving away from peace.”  

In an interview with NBC at the conference, Castro echoed Buttigieg, saying, “I would not take off the table the option of conditioning our aid on Israel not annexing the West Bank.”

Castro, however, said his focus would be to first work with the new Democratic presidential administration in 2021 to “get this [U.S.-Israel] relationship back on track and to work toward a two-state solution and stop any kind of effort to unilaterally annex the West Bank.”

The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development also criticized the leading role that Jared Kushner, the White House senior adviser and son-in-law of President Trump, is playing in Middle East peace talks. 

“I wish, though, that this president were more serious and that he would send somebody over there that actually has a track record and experience of being able to help achieve stability and peace,” Castro told NBC, adding that the White House’s peace negotiating “doesn't seem serious.”

America has been a stalwart ally of Israel, sending the country vital military and economic aid. Some U.S. politicians have bristled at Israel's decision to build settlements in the West Bank, arguing the construction in areas that go beyond the nation's initial borders could hamper peace negotiations in the region. But defenders of those settlements believe Israel is well within its rights to build on land Israel now controls after wars in the region. 

President Obama called for Israel to stop building settlements during his administration, putting him at odds with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But President Trump has been largely in lockstep with Netanyahu, and a group of Israelis named a settlement after the American president earlier this year. 

Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have previously suggested the conditioning of aid money should be on the table. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke to the group on Sunday, and Sanders and Sen. Michael Bennet will speak on Monday afternoon.

Jeffries: Proof of Trump wrongdoing 'hiding in plain sight'

WASHINGTON — New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a member of House Democratic leadership, wouldn't commit to a timeline on impeaching President Trump, arguing Sunday that the House will "continue to proceed in a serious and solemn fashion to undertake our Constitutional responsibility." 

During an interview on Sunday's "Meet the Press," Jeffries said that it's up to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., to decide when to turn "transition from the accumulation of information" to "the public presentation" of the House Democrats' charge to impeach Trump. 

"Speaker Pelosi, who by the way, is doing a phenomenal job, has made clear that we are going to continue to proceed in a serious and solemn fashion to undertake our constitutional responsibility," he said.

"We are going to follow the facts, we are gonna apply the law, we’re gonna be guided by the Constitution, we’re gonna present the truth to the American people no matter where that leads because nobody is above the law."

Jeffries went on to argue that evidence of the president's "wrongdoing" is "hiding in plain sight." 

He said the recently released White House memorandum summarizing a summer call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy proves that "Donald Trump pressured a foreign government to target an American citizenship for political gain." And he said that a whistleblower complaint against the president has been "validated" by witnesses that have testified as part of the House's impeachment inquiry. 

Sanders' longtime trip director no longer with presidential campaign

WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders’ longtime trip director and de-facto body man William Pierce is no longer with the Vermont Senator's 2020 presidential effort — and hasn't been for several weeks now — the Sanders campaign confirms to NBC News.

Image: Bernie Sanders
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pauses while speaking at a campaign event at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. on Sept. 29, 2019.Cheryl Senter / AP file

In his position, Pierce was responsible for handling logistics and day-of scheduling behind the scenes and also served as a body man of sorts for Sanders, regularly seen working at tasks like making sure the podium was up to Sanders’ specifications at events and controlling crowds around him during rope lines, “selfie” lines, parades and even at airports.

Pierce has been with the campaign since January of 2019, even before the official launch in February. He previously worked for a number of other political organizations including Draft Biden 2016, Obama for America and Sanders’ 2016 run. Pierce left the Sanders campaign in September.

According to Pierce’s publicly available social media profiles, he is now an account executive with iConstituent, a Washington D.C.-based constituent communications software company. 

National Advance staffers David Maddox and Jesse Cornett have been filling Pierce’s role in recent weeks. 

When contacted by NBC News, Pierce would not comment on the record for this story and Sanders' campaign provided no further comment.  

Klobuchar proposes plan to reduce college costs, not make it free

WASHINGTON — Senator Amy Klobuchar is setting up another contrast between herself and her fellow 2020 aspirants, this time on student loan debt and post-secondary education. 

In a plan out Friday the Minnesota senator released a plan calling for tuition-free community college, expanded apprenticeship programs, and doubling federal grants to “reduce the burden of student loans.” That approach juxtaposes sharply with others in the race, specifically Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who advocate for universal and near-universal (respectively) student loan debt forgiveness and free college. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.NBC News

Klobuchar is still riding momentum from last week’s debate where she mounted several forceful challenges to Warren and Sanders’ progressive positions; something she will continue doing, both on the trail and on the November debate stage for which she just qualified. 

The Klobuchar campaign tells NBC News that the plan’s overall price tag is “about $500 billion.” It will be paid for by raising capital gains and dividends rates for those in the top two income tax brackets, limiting the amount of cap gains deferrals, and a 30 percent minimum tax for people making over $1 million (otherwise known as the "Buffett Rule"). 

Here are some key provisions to the proposal:  

  • Tuition-free community college for one and two-year degrees, technical certifications and industry-recognized credentials. To do so, the federal government would match every $1 invested by states for students with $3. States will also be required to maintain spending on higher education and limit the rate of tuition increases if they want to access this federal funding.
  • Expand Pell Grants by doubling the max Pell Grant (which don’t have to be repaid) to $12,000/year and expanding it to families making up to $100,000/year.
  • Allow borrowers to refinance their student loans to lower rates and overhaul the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to require lenders to give better information about eligibility and progress toward forgiveness to borrowers.
  • Create a Worker Training Tax Credit, benefiting businesses who invest in worker training.

Cummings funeral marks first Biden-Obama public appearance of 2020 but the former president remains a campaign fixture

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has made Barack Obama a fixture of his campaign, even without the former president’s endorsement and presence on the campaign trail. On Friday, the public will see the two former running mates together for the first time since Biden launched his 2020 campaign, as they gather for the funeral services for Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

Image:Barack Obama and Joe Biden
Barack Obama and Joe Biden walk through the Crypt of the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 20, 2017.J. Scott Applewhite / Pool via Getty Images file

The former president and vice president were both invited by Cummings’ family to attend the services in Baltimore, where Obama will deliver one of the eulogies, at the request of the late Democrat’s widow.

The two were last seen in public together at two other funerals — for former President George H. W. Bush in December 2018, and for the late Sen. John McCain four months earlier.

Since the launch of the campaign, their families joined together this summer to celebrate the graduations of Obama’s younger daughter and Biden’s granddaughter, who became friends at the same elite Washington high school.

But the two have continued to speak and met privately often between then, according to aides for both men. At a fundraiser last week, Biden told the audience that he sees Obama “a lot.”

He mentions Obama on the trail even more. Just Tuesday, at events in Pennsylvania and Iowa, the former president’s name came up often, both in a policy context and to highlight their eight-year partnership in the White House. In Scranton he joked about Obama’s constant descriptions of his local roots as if he “crawled out of a coal mine,” and talked about how they “fought like hell” to pass the Affordable Care Act. In Iowa later he referred to the assignments Obama gave him as vice president, like developing policy to boost the middle class and on post-secondary education.

The former president has continued an active post-presidency, but done his best to stay out of the 2020 presidential primary and largely avoided commenting on politics generally.

The day Biden announced his candidacy in April, a spokesperson issued a statement noting that Obama “has long said that selecting Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made,” and noting that they remained close. While short of an endorsement, it was the only statement Obama’s office issued about a 2020 contender; Biden later told reporters he asked the president not to endorse him.

“Whoever wins this nomination should win it on their own merits,” he said.

Within days, though, Biden’s campaign released a video that replayed Obama’s own words as he awarded his vice president the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Biden campaign informally consults with Obama advisers to ensure that their use of the president’s likeness and words does not cross beyond what they deem to be appropriate.

Also in attendance at the Cummings funeral Friday will be the last Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and former President Bill Clinton, who will join Obama in speaking. The New York Times reported this week that Clinton has told people privately she would join the 2020 race if she thought she could win, but remained skeptical of there being an opening

Biden downplayed the concern among some Democrats about his candidacy to reporters Wednesday. “Sure I speak to Secretary Clinton, but I haven't spoken to her about this. I have no reason to,” he said. 

Sanders wins backing of prominent Iowa Democrat

DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is making his first swing through the Hawkeye state since suffering a heart attack earlier this month, and he’s going to be joined by some local political star power.

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker is set to endorse Sanders at the Vermont senator’s rally in Iowa City, Iowa Friday night, NBC News has learned.

Walker, the 31-year-old Cedar Rapids native, is the first African American to hold a position on the Linn County Board of Supervisors. Prior to serving in local government, Walker worked for several political campaigns at the congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential levels.

Sanders campaign aides tell NBC News they view this as a “big get.” Walker was listed on the Des Moines Register’s “50 Most-wanted Democrats” this cycle, along with names that include J.D. Scholten, running for Iowa’s 4th congressional district in the US House, and Sanders 2016 campaign staffer Pete D’Alessandro.

The Sanders campaign promises Walker is more than just an endorsement on paper- He will also be Sanders’ first Iowa co-chair, hitting the trail on behalf of the campaign across the Hawkeye state.

Image: Sen. Bernie Sanders Makes First Campaign Stop In Colorado For 2020 Race
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks to supporters at a rally at Civic Center Park on Sept. 9, 2019 in Denver.Michael Ciaglo / Getty Images file

“Now is not the time for incrementalism or for candidates wishing to capitalize on disaffected Republicans by repackaging the same failed policy programs of yesteryear,” Walker will tell supporters in Iowa City according to prepared remarks obtained by NBC News. “We cannot afford more piecemeal proposals that will be watered down even more during the legislative process, barely moving the needle in the end. We need to reimagine America’s promise, and we only get there with a bold vision.”

Walker is set to appear alongside Sanders at Friday’s “End Corporate Greed” press conference in Newton, and rally in Iowa City.

Buttigieg releases women's health and economic empowerment plan

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Pete Buttigieg Thursday unveiled a new set of policy proposals to address issues involving women’s health and economic empowerment centering on several key areas of improvement including:

  • Gender pay and wealth equity 
  • Women’s health and choice
  • Securing power and influence
  • Building safe inclusive communities for women and families

“Women’s freedom can’t depend on Washington,” the plan says. “It can only come from systematically building women’s power in our economy, our political system, and in every part of our society.”   

Image: Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Campaigns In Des Moines, Iowa
Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at a town hall meeting on Oct. 12, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa.Scott Olson / Getty Images

           

The South Bend, Indiana mayor says he will commit to nominating a cabinet and judiciary that is at least half women as well as prioritizing diversity in all presidential appointments across federal agencies, commissions and boards. He also calls for reinstating the White House Council on Women and Girls. 

To close the wage gap, Buttigieg says he would implement a $15 minimum wage, require gender pay transparency and hold employers accountable for discrimination, as well as address factors that disproportionately target women of color and widen the racial wage gap. 

The plan looks to expand gender diversity in “high priority,” sectors including computer science and construction by requiring all federally funded workforce programs to achieve target goals in women’s participation. 

It prioritizes increasing the number of women-owned businesses, and invest in scaling successful businesses, including access to capital and mentorship for women entrepreneurs by over $50 billion. And it details steps to combat sexual assault and harassment in the work place. 

The plan also calls for ending the trade off between career and family for women, including reducing the burden on unpaid family caregivers. It calls for caregivers to be considered eligible for Social Security, and says more details are to come in a forthcoming long-term care plan. 

Buttigieg would invest $10 billion to end workplace sexual harassment and discrimination against women, including a proposal to empower workers to file formal complaints about sexual harassment and discrimination, and stop companies from hiding problems, as well as banning forced arbitration clauses that deny women their right to challenge workplace harassment and discrimination in court. 

Buttigieg emphasizes the need for a “culture change” to occur around issues of sexual harassment and discrimination earlier in life. In order to achieve this a Buttigieg administration would work with states to educate students in public schools on consent and bystander intervention. In addition to reinforcing support for sexual violence prevention programs on college campuses.

In this plan, Buttigieg reiterates many of the polices he’s laid out in previous plans on criminal justice and healthcare aimed at addressing disparities in care and treatment.

Notably, on abortion rights, one of the most fiercely discussed issues in the 2020 election, Buttigieg says he would codify the right to abortion by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act, thereby preventing states from interfering in women’s access to abortions. At the ground level the candidate hopes to increase the number of clinicians who offer abortions and expand access to services by allowing them to provide remote medication abortion services.

In battleground Wisconsin, support for impeachment lags behind national polls

WASHINGTON — A new Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin, arguably the most important state for the 2020 presidential race,  is a reminder that the national poll results we’re seeing are a bit different than in the attitudes in top battleground states for 2020. 

In the poll, 46 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin say there is enough cause for Congress to hold impeachment hearings on Trump, versus 49 percent who disagree. That 46 percent is lower than the majorities we’ve seen in most national polls supporting the impeachment inquiry.

 

The poll also finds 44 percent of Wisconsin supporting Trump’s impeachment/removal from office, versus 51 percent who oppose it.

Trump’s job rating in Wisconsin is 46 percent in the poll — slightly higher than his national average in the low 40s.

Image: President Donald Trump delivers remarks on supporting the passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade deal during a visit to Derco Aerospace Inc., a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, in Milwaukee
President Donald Trump delivers remarks on supporting the passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade deal during a visit to Derco Aerospace Inc., a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, in Milwaukee, July 12, 2019.Carlos Barria / Reuters

In hypothetical general-election matchups, Biden leads Trump by 6 points in the state, 50 percent to 44 percent. That’s compared with Bernie Sanders’ 2-point lead (48 percent to 46 percent), Elizabeth Warren’s 1-point lead (47 percent to 46 percent), and Pete Buttigieg’s 2-point deficit (43 percent-45 percent).

Most national polling shows all of these Democrats ahead of Trump by double digits or high-single digits.

The poll was conducted Oct. 13-17 of 799 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percentage points.

Castro releases "First Chance Plan" for criminal justice

Former Housing Sec. Julián Castro is out with his new criminal justice plan Wednesday, which he's billing as a "First Chance Plan" to give everyone an "effective first chance to succeed" instead of addressing recidivism after a person is already incarcerated. 

Check out some highlights from the plan and read more at NBC Latino

  • Close all for-profit prisons, reform civil asset forfeiture process, abolish the death penalty
  • Establish “First Chance Advisory Council” + “Second Chance Centers” for formerly incarcerated people to advise on needs to improve prison conditions & prevent incarceration, and provide resources & assistance to newly formerly incarcerated.
  • Stricter standards for juvenile incarceration & allow children up to the age of 21 to be tried through juvenile justice system
  • Invest in public defenders by re-opening & expanding Obama’s Office for Access to justice + ensure fair caseload limits and pay equality
  • Pass legislation “banning the box” on employment application forms
  • Return right to vote to formerly incarcerated people.

AOC backs challenger to Texas Democratic congressman

WASHINGTON — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who knocked off an entrenched Democratic congressman in her 2018 primary election, is backing a Texas Democrat's quest to defeat another incumbent in 2020. 

Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Jessica Cisneros, a human rights lawyer from Laredo who is challenging Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, the former Texas secretary of state whose represented the south Texas district since 2005. 

"Jessica is an incredible candidate who’s rooted in her community, who has served her community, who understands the working families of her community ― and she’s supportive of a progressive agenda,” Ocasio-Cortez told HuffPo as she announced her endorsement. 

Cisneros is running from Cuellar's left, linking him to President Trump and attacking his record as too conservative. 

Cuellar hasn't previously faced much of a challenge at the ballot box since he first won his seat.

But the moderate Congressman has drawn the ire of progressives for not backing party orthodoxy on issues like abortion, immigration and guns. Recently, Cuellar voted to support the Hyde Amendment (which bans the use of federal funds on abortion services) and to strip grants from sanctuary cities and states. He's also previously received an A-rating from the National Rifle Association. 

Cisneros has the backing of Justice Democrats, the same group that helped Ocasio-Cortez mount her underdog bid in 2018. But she's also recently won the endorsement of EMILY's List, the pro-abortion rights group that backs female candidates and wields significant power within the Democratic establishment. 

Cuellar and his campaign have argued his record is a reflection of the moderate leanings of his district. 

"We feel very strongly that the Congressman represents the values of his district very well and that he knows and understands the priorities for his constituents, and we look forward to comparing his record of service to any candidate that gets in the race," Colin Strother, Cuellar's campaign spokesman, told NBC News after Cisneros announced her campaign. 

And he has powerful allies — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, the head of the House Democrats' campaign arm, both said during last month's Texas Tribune Festival that they'll enthusiastically support Cuellar's reelection. 

This is Ocasio-Cortez's second endorsement against a sitting Democratic colleague — she previously backed a Democrat challenging Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski, another congressman whose voting record on abortion rights has prompted criticism from the left. 

Julián Castro warns he'll drop out if he can’t raise $800,000 by end of October

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Former Housing Sec. Julián Castro sent an urgent email to supporters Monday morning, in bolded red text, reading: “If I can’t raise $800,000 in the next 10 days — I will have no choice but to end my race for President.”

The threat is reminiscent of New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign, which warned in a September memo that without another $1.7 million raised in 10 days, Booker's campaign wouldn't have a "legitimate long-term path forward." Booker ended up hitting this goal and has already qualified for the November debate stage.

In Castro's email, he warns that without the $800,000, "I won't have the resources to keep my campaign running." The note ties cash intake to high polling numbers, as the candidate struggles to meet the threshold for the November debate, sponsored by MSNBC and The Washington Post. 

“Our campaign is facing its biggest challenge yet,” campaign manager Maya Rupert said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we do not see a path to victory that doesn't include making the November debate stage — and without a significant uptick in our fundraising, we cannot make that debate.”

"This isn’t a gimmick or a threat, it’s the stakes,” Castro’s national press secretary, Sawyer Hackett, tweeted following the email blast. “If we don’t make the debate, fundraising will slow and we will continue to be shut out by the media, leaving us no path to victory. Tom Steyer unfortunately proved cash can get you polls — we need the resources to get there.”

Steyer, who is a billionaire, has injected more than $45 million of his own money into his campaign and has qualified for the debate stage. 

The last fundraising quarter was Castro’s best yet, bringing in $3.5 million. But because he spent heavily, his cash-on-hand total rests at about $672,000 — well below other low-polling candidates like Gov. Steve Bullock, Sen. Michael Bennet, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Castro’s campaign says it's hit the 165,000 donors needed for the November 20 debate in Georgia, but he has not received any qualifying polls required to be on the stage. The deadline to qualify is Nov. 13.

Buttigieg rises in latest Iowa poll, launches new ad

WASHINGTON — South Bend, Ind. Democratic Mayor Pete Buttigieg has risen to third place in a new Iowa Democratic caucus poll, putting him behind only former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. 

The South Bend, Indiana mayor netted 13 percent in a new Suffolk University/USA Today poll released Monday morning, trailing Biden's 18 percent and 17 percent respectively. The three were the only candidates to finish in double digits — Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders finished at 9 points, followed by billionaire Tom Steyer, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and California Sen. Kamala Harris at 3 percent. 

The finish for Buttigieg marks a 7-point gain from his showing in a June poll by the same outlets. He also narrowly led among voters who watched the Democratic primary debates, and finished behind only Warren when voters were asked to give their second-choice candidate. 

A new face on the national political scene, Buttigieg has emerged as one of the field's strongest fundraisers. After starting at an organizational deficit to better-known candidates, the mayor has directed his massive resources toward building out an organization in early states — he almost tripled the number of staff on payroll between June and September, Federal Election Commission reports show

Also on Monday, Buttigieg's campaign released a new ad that will air in the Quad Cities of Iowa. it's aimed at rural communities, arguing that both urban and rural areas should "have an equal shot at success in this country." 

Suffolk and USA Today polled 500 likely Democratic caucusgoers between Oct. 16 and Oct. 18 with a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points. 

An energized Klobuchar gets warm reception in New Hampshire

MANCHESTER, N.H. — On the heels of a widely noted performance in Tuesday’s debate, Senator Amy Klobuchar headed straight to New Hampshire for a 30-hour, campaign swing through all of the state's 10 counties where she appeared in various venues this week — from organized town hall event settings to brief stops at breakfast spots and coffee shops.

The Minnesota senator now heads to Iowa for a bus tour and a similar focus on retail politics in another early primary state.

“I just want to make clear that my campaign is yes about debates, yes about reaching out but it's really about this kind of grassroots campaigning,” Klobuchar told reporters after one of her events in Concord.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.NBC News

Her campaign is now touting $1.5 million raised in the 36 hours following the debate. And Klobuchar appeared energized from her performance at many of her events in the Granite State.

“I felt good about the debate,” Klobuchar told reporters in Manchester, ahead of an evening stop at the infamous Red Arrow Diner. “My goal was to make sure that a lot of people understood where I was coming from and how I could lead the country who maybe didn't know who I was or just could heard me once and I think we accomplished that."

"And then we just had this surge of support," she added. "Ever since the debate, we're really doing well online people are really interested.”

Voters that NBC News spoke with at her events were largely impressed with her debate performance, but still skeptical if she could lead the Democratic field and ultimately face President Trump in the general election. One man who said that had voted for Trump in 2016 said he was so frustrated now that he is willing to check out more moderate Democratic candidates, and Klobuchar was the first candidate he’d gone to see in person this cycle.

At an event in Londonderry the evening following the debate, Klobuchar spoke to a large, energized crowd at a town hall of over 250 people. She received a standing ovation as she walked, and chants of “Amy” began to break out from the predominantly elderly audience. As she was introduced, and her debate performance was hinted at, the crowd burst into applause. 

When asked about criticisms she made during the debate about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s, D-Mass., more progressive position of Medicare for All and how that would be funded, Klobuchar said, “I don't actually focus much on other people's campaigns and my arguments and the issues that I had on that debate, were really about policy and the voters are going to ultimately decide who they think is the best candidate to lead our ticket."

Pressed in Manchester whether her primary opponents are being forthright in their description of Medicare for All and what it costs, Klobuchar told reporters “they've been very clear and it's right there in writing, it's not disputed that it would kick 149 million off their current insurance. 149 million people in just four years. That's right there on page eight and I think just the issue is how are they going to pay for it? As I said last night, who are they going to send the invoice to? And they're going to have to be forthright about that as well.”

They Voted to Impeach Their Own Party’s President — And Lived to Tell the Tale

WASHINGTON — Democrats in the House of Representatives likely have enough support to impeach President Trump with no Republican votes. And while a handful of Republican members of Congress have expressed cautious support for the ongoing inquiry now entering its fourth week, none have indicated they are actually anywhere close to voting to impeach.

Though it may seem unlikely in today’s hyper-partisan era, it is not unheard of for representatives to vote to impeach a president from their own party.

Twelve members of Congress have voted against their own party’s president at some stage of America’s two previous impeachment proceedings: seven Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee backed articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon in 1974, and five Democrats voted against Bill Clinton on the House floor in 1998.

Richard Nixon
President Richard Nixon in his White House office after delivering a television address on March 16, 1972.John Duricka / AP file

And while today’s Republicans tread carefully around Trump, who delights in attacking critics in his own party, a look at previous impeachments shows that a vote against one’s own party leader hasn’t necessarily been a political career-ender.

In 1974, at the height of Watergate, the House Judiciary Committee sent three articles of impeachment against President Nixon to the House floor. Nixon resigned before the whole House could vote on them, but seven Republican members of the Judiciary Committee had already voted to advance at least one of the articles of impeachment.

Of those seven, five — M. Caldwell Butler, William Cohen, Hamilton Fish, Robert McClory, and Tom Railsback – went on to win re-election, and all continued to serve in Congress into the 1980s. Only Butler faced a difficult re-election that year, winning with a plurality of 45 percent against two other candidates. One of the seven, freshman Harold Froehlich, lost re-election to a Democrat, and later acknowledged that his vote to impeach had contributed to his defeat, causing enough Republicans in his swing district to abandon him.

The most famous of the seven, Lawrence Hogan, Sr., was also the first to support impeaching Nixon, and is credited with being the crack in the dam leading to the president’s downfall. Hogan retired from Congress in 1974 to run for Maryland governor.

Image: Lawrence Hogan
Rep. Lawrence Hogan, R-Md. with party members in 1972.CQ Roll Call via AP Images / AP

Although initially the leading contender for the Republican nomination, his vote to impeach Nixon cost him support, and he narrowly lost the primary. Though he later served as a county executive, Hogan’s vote to impeach is held up as the ultimate act of principled political martyrdom.  

(His son, Larry Hogan Jr, is now the governor of the state and one of the most high-profile Republican elected officials to back the inquiry against Trump.)

The 1998 impeachment of  Bill Clinton  saw five Democrats vote against their own party’s president.

Image: Bill Clinton Impeachment
President Clinton walks to the podium to deliver a short statement on the impeachment inquiry in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Dec. 11, 1998.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

Four of the five — Virginia’s Virgil Goode, Texas’s Charles Stenholm and Ralph Hall, and Mississippi’s Gene Taylor — faced no opposition in their next primary, won their next general handily and continued to serve in Congress well into the 2000s. One, Paul McHale, was already a lame duck, having chosen to retire after 1998.

Three of the five Democratic defectors didn’t actually remain Democrats. Goode announced he was leaving the party in 2000, and won an easy reelection as an independent that year before becoming a Republican in 2002. Hall remained a Democrat until 2004, when he became a Republican, and served as such for another 11 years.

Taylor, who eventually lost his seat in the Republican wave of 2010, attempted a comeback bid for his seat in 2014 as a Republican, but was unsuccessful. And though McHale never switched parties, he went on to serve as Assistant Secretary of Defense for President George W. Bush, a Republican.

This series of partisan switches suggests that impeachment could potentially be a realigning factor for the two parties. Does supporting impeachment preclude a Republican from being a Republican?

In the case of Trump’s impeachment, this is already true. The one Republican House member who announced support for Trump’s impeachment, Michigan’s Justin Amash, has already left his party over the issue.

He now serves as an independent.

New poll: 54% support House's decision to open impeachment inquiry

A new poll from the Pew Research Center finds that a majority — 54 percent — of American adults approve of the House’s decision to begin an impeachment inquiry, while 44 percent disapprove.

The same poll found that a 58 percent majority says Trump definitely or probably has done things that are “grounds for impeachment.”

And it showed a lack of confidence in both parties when it comes to handling the impeachment inquiry. Fifty-seven percent say they are not confident that Republicans in Congress will be fair and reasonable during the inquiry, while 52 percent say the same of Democrats.

The Pew survey questioned a panel of respondents, which allows for re-asking the same questions to the same people at different points in time. Overall, nine percent of adults who opposed the impeachment proceedings early last month now approve of the House’s decision to open the inquiry.

Of that nine percent, 61 percent are Democrats or independents who lean toward the Democratic Party, while 32 percent are Republicans or independents who lean toward the Republican Party.

Club for Growth takes to airwaves to accuse Romney of disloyalty to Trump

WASHINGTON — The Club for Growth, the conservative outside group that's typically argued for lower taxes, is attacking Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney in a new television ad of being a "Democratic secret asset" hellbent on destroying President Trump with impeachment. 

"Slick, slippery, stealthy: Mitt Romney had us fooled," the ad's narrator says before showing footage of Romney during his 2012 presidential bid praising an endorsement from Trump.

"Now his cover's blown, exposed by news reports as a Democrat secret asset. Sources say Romney’s plotting to take down President Trump with impeachment. Tell Romney, quit colluding with Democrats on impeachment."

The group says the ad will air statewide in Utah on Fox News from Oct. 17 to Oct. 27. Data from media-tracking firm Advertising Analytics shows the group spent about $20,000 to run the ads. 

Romney has been increasingly vocal of the president in recent weeks, tweeting concerns about Trump's public calls for China and Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, and blasting the decision to withdraw American troops from the Turkish and Syrian border. 

The criticism has prompted Trump to attack Romney, calling for his impeachment. Senators cannot be impeached. 

Romney hasn't publicly said whether he supports the House's impeachment investigation or whether he'd vote to remove Trump from office if the Senate holds a formal trial. And while a recent Vanity Fair piece (referenced in the Club ad through a summary of the article written by Blaze Media) said Romney is trying to whip support for impeachment behind the scenes, sources familiar with Romney's thinking denied that report to NBC last week. 

The new ad marks the latest in the Club's major transformation as to its posture toward Trump. During the 2016 Republican presidential primary, the group ran attack ads that framed Trump as the one trying to fool Republican voters. 

"Trump wants us to think he's Mr. Tell It Like It Is. But he has a record, and it's very liberal. He really is just playing us for chumps," the 2015 spot said. 

David McIntosh, the president of Club for Growth, told "Meet the Press" in August that the anti-Trump 2015 ads came during the heat of a campaign when the group backed Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. 

"What we base our current position on is the results. President Trump has governed as a free-market conservative — cutting taxes, trying to get rid of Obamacare, deregulating the oil and energy industry, deregulating the internet. And it's working," he said. 

On D.C. “swamp tour,” a handful of Republican voters look to replace Trump

WASHINGTON — Last Thursday, just two miles from where House Democrats launched their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump last month, a group of mostly lifelong Republican voters embarked on a bus tour of Trump’s so-called “swamp.” 

Representing a distinct minority of GOP loyalists who oppose the president, they were brought to the nation’s capital city by progressive groups to help shine a public spotlight on what they believe is a scandal-riddled administration.  

“You can't understand the Ukraine scandal without understanding all of the corruption that got us to this point, and that's what we're setting out to show on this bus today,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Institute, a Democratic-leaning group that co-sponsored the tour along with the Revolving Door Project.

Through word of mouth and online solicitation, Taylor’s group found eight vocally anti-Trump voters — including six Republicans — and invited them aboard. (The other two are unaffiliated with either major party.) The voters, whose flights from Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Texas were paid for by organizers, say they’re opposed to the president in 2020 and would support any Democrats who take him on in the general election.

The bus was also packed with reporters, and it made stops at the Trump International Hotel, the Ukrainian Embassy, the Environmental Protection Agency and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home. At each of the 14 “corruption landmarks,” organizers said conflicts of interest and allegations of backroom deals have made the swamp Trump promised to drain “even murkier.”

Participants on this one-time trip said they were shocked to learn that Trump’s current choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, used to be a top coal lobbyist.

“It’s as if you had sued the department to then become the department head,” said Cheryl Rutledge Lindstrom, a registered Republican from Ocala, Fla., who participated in the tour. 

The voters say tales from the swamp, among other reasons, have forced them to draw a line between Trump’s brand of conservatism and the Republican Party they have supported for decades.

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll underscores this divide between supporters of Trump and supporters of the Republican Party, with 91 percent of “Trump Republicans” saying there isn’t enough evidence to hold an impeachment inquiry, compared with just 58 percent of “party Republicans” who agree.

“We haven’t changed,” said Mary Miner, a registered Republican from Humboldt, Iowa. "The party has."

Miner and her husband, Wayne, have voted straight-ticket Republican in most elections. Wayne voted for Nixon, Reagan, both Bushes, McCain and Romney — but said he’s switching to the Democratic nominee in 2020.

Steve Anderson, a lifelong Republican voter from Wheaton, Ill., also said he will vote for whomever the Democrats nominate next year.

“Whether I agree with their policies or not matters to some extent. But right now, I don’t think we can argue about policy,” Anderson said. “I think no matter who is running, if Donald Trump is still on the ballot, we need to replace Donald Trump because he is an existential threat to our system.”

Mary and Wayne said they are looking for a candidate who is free of the corruption underscored by the swamp tour. For Mary, Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren fits the bill. Wayne hasn’t decided on a candidate but said he likes Democrats Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris.

“It just makes me sick, the amount of corruption we have,” Wayne said. “Everyone who points fingers is pointing three [fingers] back at themselves, and it’s a scary thing to think about.”

The couple said they hope to use what they learned on the tour as “ammunition” for converting Trump supporters ahead of 2020, but Anderson predicts success will be few and far between.

“The level of corruption is endemic through this administration at a scale we’ve never seen, but it’s not going to flip any Trump voters, because they already know,” Anderson said. “And they don’t care.”

What we learned from third quarter fundraising reports

WASHINGTON — With all eyes focused on Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, the candidates released their third-quarter fundraising reports yesterday evening too. 

Many had already pushed out some top-line numbers meant to display their campaigns in the best light, but the massive paper reports offer an objective look at the health of these campaigns with just a few months to go before voting begins. 

Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Fourth Debate In Ohio
From left, candidates Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Beto O'Rourke, Amy Klobuchar and Julian Castro stand together at the start of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on Oct. 15, 2019.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Here are some of the takeaways from the NBC Political Unit:  

Burn rates tell important stories

A candidate’s burn rate (the amount spent divided by the amount raised) is one key metric used to read a fundraising report. Generally, a campaign wants to be taking in more money than it’s putting out, but it’s possible that a heavy investment now can pay off later, especially if a candidate is sitting on a war chest that can allow them to take on a heavy bill in the short term. 

That’s what former Vice President Joe Biden appears to be hoping for — his campaign burned through almost $17.7 million last quarter, bringing in $15.7 million for a burn rate of 112 percent. 

He has enough in the bank, almost $9 million, to cushion that spending rate. But Biden was the only one of the top-four polling candidates (Biden, Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg) whose cash on hand dropped from the beginning of the fundraising quarter. 

Sanders leads the pack with $33.7 million on hand, followed by Warren's $25.7 million and Buttigieg's 23.4 million. 

Biden was far from the only candidate with a high burn rate. Every candidate except Sanders, Warren, businessman Andrew Yang, Buttigieg, and author Marianne Williamson spent more than they brought in, and Buttigieg and Williamson’s burn rates were both about 95 percent. 

That includes some heavy proportional spending other candidates, who are either trying to snag a spot on the November debate stage or remain relevant and viable as the distance between the tiers of candidates increases.  

Steyer’s self-funding haul 

Billionaire businessman Tom Steyer’s campaign had been a bit of an enigma up until now — since he announced his campaign in July, he didn’t have to file a quarterly fundraising report until Tuesday. 

But now that he’s opened up his books, one thing is clear: Steyer’s personal wealth is the driving force of his campaign, and it’s driving a massive engine. 

Steyer contributed $47.6 million of his personal wealth to his campaign, helping him to spend $47 million overall last quarter. He raised just $2,047,432.86 from individuals, more than only fellow-self-funder John Delaney (the former Maryland congressman), and Ryan. 

That spending has proven to be a game-changer for Steyer, who made his first debate appearance Tuesday night after failing to qualify for the first three Democratic debates. And he’s already qualified for the next debate in November.

His third-quarter FEC filing tells a story of a campaign without wide support, but with a candidate who has enough money to single-handedly carry his campaign for as long as he wants. 

This kind of personal contribution to the campaign drove some of his Democratic opponents to cry foul. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Steyer “succeeded in buying his way” onto the stage. And New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said Steyer’s wealth “has helped him gain in the polls like no one else.” But this seems to be a personal investment and strategy Steyer is happy to continue.   

So how much of this money has Steyer burned through? With the total amount raised, Steyer’s burn rate is pretty in line with the rest of the field at 94.72 percent. But what’s his burn rate when only accounting for the cash he’s brought in from individuals? 2,424 percent.  

Boots on the ground

If a big burn rate is the sign of a campaign investment, then it’s important to figure out where that money is going. 

Each of the four top polling candidates prioritized building out their staff this cycle, as Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg all increased their staff since the end of the second quarter.

Buttigieg essentially tripled his staff — last quarter he had about 130 payrolled staff, but he has almost 450 now.  Sanders and Warren, who already had a large staff, doubled the number of people on their payroll to about 560 and 610 members, respectively.

Harris, who has fallen out of the top-polling group, still grew her staff to just over 300 members from about 160. 

One big surprise in staff growth: Andrew Yang. 

Yang had just about 20 people on the payroll at the end of June. While his organization still trails behind higher-polling candidates, he more than tripled his staff and it’s grown to over 70. Yang’s a long way off from the larger campaigns, but he closed the third quarter with a big fundraising increase, a low burn rate and a relatively big investment in staff. 

So where does this leave Biden? While he has a high burn rate and less cash on hand than the beginning of the quarter, his staff numbers doubled. Biden has about 450 staff on the payroll, compared to the about 190 he reported last quarter. 

Only four campaigns didn’t significantly increase their payrolled staff: Castro, O’Rourke, Delaney and Ryan. 

O’Rourke and Castro still have about 130 and 40 payrolled staff respectively, while Delaney has about 50 and Ryan just five.

Castro and O’Rourke have both made the donation threshold for the next debate, but haven’t met the polling measure.

Leading gun control group warns candidates 'mandatory buybacks could be dangerous' politically

One of the nation's leading gun-control groups is warning presidential candidates that mandatory gun buybacks are not especially popular, even as that debate percolates within the Democratic field. 

A memo sent to the 2020 Democratic campaigns by Giffords, an advocacy group named after former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in 2011, warned that "Democratic candidates for president benefit among primary voters by focusing on background checks and extreme risk protection orders, not the mandatory buyback of assault weapons." 

The memo, from Giffords' political director Joanna Belanger, was sent Friday and shared new polling data commissioned by the group.

"When primary voters are presented with a series of hypothetical profiles for candidates, they overwhelmingly prefer a Democrat who focuses on background checks to one who simply mentions guns or one who focuses on mandatory gun buybacks," the memo, which has since been made public, continued. "Voter skepticism about mandatory buybacks is fueled by the belief that we need to focus on solutions that are proven to work and have broad agreement across party lines."

The group's pollster, Global Strategy Group, added in polling summary: "Supporting background checks is the key to winning over persuadable voters whereas mandatory buybacks could be dangerous."

Mandatory buybacks drew virtually no support from any major gun safety groups or national Democrats until recently, when presidential candidates like former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke embraced the concept and raised its profile. 

The policy would not only ban assault weapons but take the extra step of requiring gun owners to sell existing assault weapons back to the government. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47," O'Rourke said in the last Democratic debate.

Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said they too support mandatory buybacks, while Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana has criticized the idea.

In an interview with NBC News, Giffords Executive Director Peter Ambler stressed the unity in the 2020 Democratic field around major gun issues, saying the disagreement on buybacks "is a side story playing out at the margins."

But he added that Democrats will be best able to take on the National Rifle Association if they remain united around consensus issues like background checks and red flag laws.

"Something that candidates should take note of is that what voters want, even in the primary, is not for candidates to do the most extreme thing just for the sake of doing the most extreme thing," Ambler said.

Established gun safety groups, like Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety, have still largely backed alternative approaches, but at least one major new player in the debate has come out for mandatory buybacks.

March For Our Lives, the gun safety movement launched with student survivors of the Parkland shooting, made it a part of their comprehensive policy plan in August. The group co-hosted a candidate forum on gun safety issues last month with Giffords, which was broadcast on MSNBC. 

Democrats get punchy ahead of debate

WASHINGTON — It's time for another Democratic debate, and the candidates have already been laying the groundwork in the days leading up to Tuesday's big event.

Recent days have been filled with candidates taking shots at their rivals as they look for a shot of momentum. 

Here are a few of the more notable examples: 

Buttigieg takes on all comers

South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been criticizing several of his fellow candidates. He hit Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's decision to shy away from big-dollar fundraisers for her campaign (but not for the party), telling Snapchat's "Good Luck America" that Democrats can't win with "pocket change."

His campaign is also taking on Warren and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders for their support for Medicare-for-All, which Buttigieg has referred to as a "my-way-or-the-highway" approach, with a new digital ad that contrasts his plan with theirs. 

And he's been at the center of a spat over former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke's plan for mandatory buybacks of certain semi-automatic weapons. 

O'Rourke has been criticizing Buttigieg for not supporting his plan, saying during a gun violence town hall sponsored by MSNBC that the mayor is someone who is "worried about the polls and want[s] to triangulate or talk to the consultants or listen to the focus groups."

Buttigieg swiped back during the Snapchat interview, calling O'Rourke's plan confiscation. But that prompted criticism from both Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

Candidates pile on O'Rourke over church and state

O'Rourke sparked a kerfuffle last week when he told CNN that churches and religious organizations should lose their tax-exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage. 

Buttigieg told CNN on Sunday that O'Rourke's idea would "deepen the divisions" on the issue and Massachusetts Warren's campaign put out a statement Monday disagreeing with O'Rourke, but not mentioning him by name. 

O'Rourke and his campaign have since walked away from those comments, and he now says his main concern was about discrimination by institutions providing public services. 

Read more from NBC's Benjy Sarlin on the blog

Sanders knocks Warren on capitalism

There's fighting along the left flank too, with Sanders knocking Warren during a recent ABC interview. 

When asked why candidates should choose him over his fellow Medicare-for-All, big-money blasting progressive, Sanders responded by arguing that "Elizabeth, as you know, has said that she's a capitalist through her bones. I'm not," adding that the "greed and corruption" in the country requires a fundamentally different approach. 

—Benjy Sarlin, Melissa Holzberg, Ali Vitali, Ben Pu and Deepa Shivaram contributed

Tom Steyer gets his first shot to make a second impression

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Democratic presidential hopeful Tom Steyer will get his first shot on the national debate stage Tuesday, alongside 11 other contenders. His face has been seen on TV screens in living rooms across the country, thanks to an about $20 million ad campaign aimed at boosting his own bid, on top of a series of ads aimed at impeaching President Trump prior to his announcement. 

But now Steyer is hoping voters will re-imagine his billionaire persona and see him as an “outsider” far removed from the world of Washington D.C.

“It's an unusual thing for people, to meet somebody who's described as a billionaire,” Steyer said. “Let me tell you who I think I am, because I think people don't really understand that.”

Image: Tom Steyer listens during a town hall event in Ankeny, Iowa, on Jan. 9, 2019.
Tom Steyer listens during a town hall event in Ankeny, Iowa, on Jan. 9, 2019.Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

What people may not understand, according to Steyer, is that he doesn’t travel in private planes — in fact he flies commercial “100 percent” of the time — and gold faucets aren’t a staple in his bathroom. Steyer argues that his work with environmental advocacy group Next Gen America and other grassroots organizations puts him at odds with the wealthy class to which he belongs.

“I actually have a record for 10 years of organizing people against those elites,” Steyer said. “Do I think I'm not lucky? You know, extraordinarily lucky and have advantages? No, I do. But take a look about how I’ve used it.”

Even so, the candidate at times seems disconnected from issues impacting average Americans.

At a house party in Iowa, the key first in the nation caucus state, one elderly man asked the candidate about robocalls that often target senior citizens. In the scenario, a caller, claiming to be an official from the IRS, tells the person on the line that he or she owes the government money. Upon hearing this, Steyer raised his eyebrows in shock, responding “Is that right?” The rest of the attendees nodded in agreement, pointing out that the caller was a fraud.

“Oh, it’s a scam?” Steyer asked, “I didn’t know that.”

Legislative efforts have been underway in both the House and Senate to crack down on robocalls for years, after the Federal Trade Commission received more than 3.7 robocall complaints in 2018 alone — but Steyer seemed unfamiliar with the issue.

At another event, a voter from western Iowa expressed concern about the impacts of ethanol waivers. The waivers, issued by the Trump administration, allow oil companies to opt-out of blending ethanol into their fuel, thus eliminating demand for the bushels of corn that Iowa farmers produce for this purpose. This comes amid a trade war that's also affecting local farmers’ bottom line.

As the potential caucus-goer described the waivers as “turning it all upside down,” Steyer interrupted. “What are the oil waivers? I’m not familiar. What exactly does that refer to?” asked the man running for president, who touts that he’s been organizing in Iowa for the past seven years.

Steyer doesn’t deny that he faces a learning curve. “There are things in this world that I don’t know,” he said.

Despite his lack of knowledge on the intricacies of some issues, Steyer argues that is less important than listening to voters' concerns and being able to respond in real-time.

“When someone explains that to me? Do I have a framework for thinking about what I think about that? Yes,” Steyer said.

The next morning, while answering questions from caucus-goers, he’d clearly done his homework. Steyer spun an inquiry about agriculture and trade into questioning the President’s move to issue waivers to 81 ethanol plants, “Does he know anything about ethanol? Here’s a guy that doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

The disconnect could become concerning for voters as they consider which candidate to support in the caucuses because some doubt that Steyer will be able to expand beyond the issues that he’s invested in.

“He already had Next Gen out doing advocacy for the environment, and then he decided to say [Trump] is a fraud. He riled up his Next Gen audience, so he already has that support cooked in, and that’s what you’re seeing right now,” Tony Currin of Johnson County told NBC News. 

Others, including 68-year-old Al McGaffin a retired teacher in Iowa who attended a meet-and-greet with the candidate, say Steyer has no problem connecting with audiences and would bring a fresh perspective to the presidency.

“His expertise, his ability to understand economics, his ability to understand people and the world, I think he can handle it, I think he’s got the experience,” McGaffin said.

Still, Steyer acknowledges he still has much to learn.

“You don't start at the finish line. The process is super important. You’ve got to think about the processes being a learning experience,” Steyer said. “And that learning experience is important and not threatening.”

“I'll try and say what I think try to be myself and try to present myself as a different candidate from everybody else, which is true, and try and be straightforward about it.” Steyer said. “It's really introducing myself and honestly, that's how I see it.”

Andrew Yang wants tech companies to pay users for their personal data

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Presidential candidate Andrew Yang wants your data to be just that: yours.

As a presidential candidate, Yang recently released a proposal establishing data as a property right, meaning users should have control over their personal data — and get paid for it.

“Right now we have this lack of data dignity, there's a tyranny of the tech companies and then we're just looking up and hoping for the best. We can change that,” Yang told NBC News. “And there is more value to be generated if we buy in and accept because right now a lot of the data that's getting sold and resold is anonymous.” 

The idea, he argues, would benefit companies because if users were compensated for their data — from jogging routes to dining preferences — then they would provide more information. The burden would then be on companies to share with each user how they are using, reselling and profiting from that data.

“Right now technology companies are selling and reselling our data and we're none the wiser,” said Yang. “We're seeing none of that value. At this point, our data is worth more than oil. And if that's the case, then we should be benefiting from it, not just the companies.” 

“It's our data, it's our value, it's our property and getting us a share of that value will be an immense game changer for many, many Americans,” he added. “It's not just about the money though, it's about the control, it's about the autonomy, it's about the agency. It's our data, we should know what's happening to it, and we should be able to change our preferences.”

Yang views this “data dividend” as a supplement to or part of his signature proposal, the freedom dividend, in which the government would pay each adult citizen $1,000 a month.

Asked what his idea would look like in practice, with companies like Facebook paying users for information shared, Yang said “that’s the fun part.”

“We have to find out how they're monetizing our information and then get a fair share of that,” he said. “Right now it's difficult to determine precisely because we don't know what they're doing with our information.”

Recently, Gigi Sohn, a former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) special counsel under President Obama criticized Yang’s plan, arguing, “it’s impractical and I also think it will only lead to more litigation.”

Asked if his idea would lead to more privacy problems rather than fewer, Yang told NBC News his idea is not unique, citing the European Union’s approach to data protection rules and the recently passed California Consumer Privacy Act.

“If it was on the companies, where we owed them money, then we know there'd be absolutely no issue,” he said. “But because they are taking our data and profiting from it, that it’s somehow an administrative burden? It really doesn't make any sense.”

O’Rourke clarifies position on churches and same-sex marriage as 2020 rivals weigh in

WASHINGTON —Beto O’Rourke clarified his stance on LGBTQ rights and religious institutions as some 2020 Democratic rivals distanced themselves from comments he made last Thursday in which he appeared to back ending tax-exempt status for churches that oppose same-sex marriage. O’Rourke and his staff have since said that was not his intended position.  

Elizabeth Warren’s spokeswoman Saloni Sharma put out a statement on Monday disavowing the concept of denying tax-exempt status to churches over marriage rights. 

"Elizabeth will stand shoulder to shoulder with the LGBTQ+ community until every person is empowered and able to live their life without fear of discrimination and violence,” the campaign statement said. “Religious institutions in America have long been free to determine their own beliefs and practices, and she does not think we should require them to conduct same-sex marriages in order to maintain their tax exempt status." 

On Sunday, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg criticized O’Rourke’s stance on CNN, suggesting his rival had perhaps misunderstood the implications of his remarks and that his position would “deepen the divisions that we’re already experiencing at a moment when we’re actually seeing more and more people motivated, often by compassion and by people they love, moving in the right direction on LGBTQ rights.” 

President Trump also invoked O’Rourke’s comments over the weekend, calling him a “wacko” in a speech to the Values Voters Summit.

However, O’Rourke has since ruled out ending tax-exempt status for churches that refuse to endorse or perform same-sex marriage, with the candidate and his staff saying on Sunday and Monday that they would not look to influence religious doctrine, but instead target specific instances of potential discrimination by religiously affiliated institutions. 

“To be specific, the way that you practice your religion or your faith within that mosque or that temple or synagogue or church, that is your business, and not the government's business,” O’Rourke said on MSNBC on Sunday. “But when you are providing services in the public sphere, say, higher education, or health care, or adoption services, and you discriminate or deny equal treatment under the law based on someone's skin color or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation, then we have a problem.”

In the same interview, O’Rourke mentioned a 1983 Supreme Court ruling against Bob Jones University that ruled the religiously affiliated school could be stripped of its tax-exempt status for discriminating on the basis of race. He suggested the Equality Act, a House-passed bill backed by Democratic leadership that would extend civil rights protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, would clarify that similar types of discrimination were against the law. 

The initial exchange on Thursday with CNN’s Don Lemon at a forum sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign appeared to go further: O’Rourke was asked whether churches and other religious organizations should “lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage” and answered in the affirmative.

“Yes,” O’Rourke said. “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone, or any institution, any organization in America, that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. And so as president, we are going to make that a priority, and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

The courts are still sorting out the limits of religious exemptions and LGBTQ protections.

Meanwhile, Republicans and many religious organizations are opposed to new civil rights legislation that they fear could force religious schools, charities, and hospitals to take actions they believe violate their faith. But O’Rourke seems to be getting closer to mainstream Democratic and activist territory now, rather than carving out a new position entirely.

Big ad spending disparity helps Rispone win second slot in LA gov runoff

WASHINGTON — Businessman Eddie Rispone is the GOP's standard-bearer in the Lousiana governor's race after Republicans kept incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards under 50 percent on Saturday. And Rispone punched that ticket thanks in no small part to a massive spending edge over Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham. 

Edwards was the clear leader (no other major Democrat was running in the "jungle primary," which pits the whole field against each other regardless of political party) with 47 percent of the vote. Rispone finished with 27 percent, followed by Abraham's 24 percent. 

Image: Eddie Rispone speaks at the Louisiana GOP Unity Rally in Kenner on Oct. 5, 2019.
Eddie Rispone speaks at the Louisiana GOP Unity Rally in Kenner on Oct. 5, 2019.Sophia Germer / The Advocate via AP

Rispone's camp spent $8.1 million ahead of Saturday's "jungle primary," about as much as Edwards' campaign did and significantly more than the $2 million spent by Abraham. And a healthy chunk of that money went to blistering attacks on Edwards, particularly in the final days. 

Out of the $672,000 Rispone spent in the final seven days of the race, more than a third of that was spent on attack ads targeting Abraham, according to data from the media-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. 

Abraham, by comparison, tried to frame himself as above the fray in the final days. His campaign ran $157,000 worth of ads down that same stretch, the vast majority on a spot that framed him as the candidate who "rose above it all" despite the "noise and negative campaigning." 

If the Democrat had won the majority of votes on Saturday, he'd win re-election outright. But instead, he now has to face Rispone in a runoff next month. 

Look for some serious spending to come in this race as Republicans and Democrats furiously face off in the battle for one of the few red-state gubernatorial seats held by a Democrat. 

Sanders campaign co-chair: Heart attack makes senator's commitment to Medicare for All personal

DOVER, NH — As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) takes time off to recover from his recent heart attack, his surrogates have been out on the trail in full swing. This weekend, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fame held five campaign events across the first-in-the-nation primary state, opening field offices and kicking off Green New Deal canvassing with ice cream scoops and energetic speeches. 

Cohen, one of Sanders’ four national campaign co-chairs, told a crowd at the campaign’s Dover, New Hampshire field office that Sanders “health-wise is doing great.”

“His people are trying to hold him back, telling him, ‘you ought to rest up for a bit,’ but the plan is that he’s going to be in the debate on Tuesday and after that he’s going to be hitting trail full steam ahead,” he said to dozens of supporters as they sampled Americone Dream and Cherry Garcia ice cream, two of Ben & Jerrys’ signature flavors.

In a one-on-one interview, Cohen said Sanders has always believed health care is a human right and “he feels it more than ever now.”

“He is raring to go, he just can’t wait to get back on the trail,” he told NBC News. “He is more committed than ever to Medicare for All, he realizes that if somebody who didn’t have decent health insurance was in the position that he was in, they’d be saddled with medical debt, medical bankruptcy, for the crime of having a heart problem.”

According to Cohen, the mood of the campaign is an upbeat, revitalized one. Sanders returns to the trail on Saturday with a rally in Long Island City, NY.   

“It was kind of like a rallying call — people are more psyched, more motivated than ever,” said Cohen. “There’s a real sense that it’s not about him, it’s about us, and that we all need to rise to the occasion because this is the only presidential candidate in my lifetime who has ever had such a progressive, such a view in favor of regular everyday people.”

To him, voter concerns about Sanders’ health are exaggerated, especially since the Vermont senator has always been active.

“Personally, I had quadruple bypass open-heart surgery. That’s a big thing. This guy had a couple of little stents put in. That is not a big thing,” he said.

“I go out on the campaign trail with the guy, I’m out there three days, and I gotta go home and recuperate and he just keeps on going,” Cohen added.

“He was in good shape before this, I think he’s going to be in better shape because now that he’s got his arteries unclogged, he’s got the energy to go out there and unclog all the corruption in our government.”

Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten, plans three-country fundraising tour

WASHINGTON — South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg's presidential campaign is turning to Americans living overseas for an extra infusion of campaign cash.

Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten Glezman Buttigieg, will embark next week on a three-country European fundraising tour, holding five events over three days, according to invitations obtained by NBC News.

Image: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, in Indiana on April 14, 2019.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, in Indiana on April 14, 2019.Zbigniew Bzdak / TNS via Getty Images file

Chasten Buttigieg will be in the U.K. on Oct. 22 for a cocktail party in Hampstead, just outside London, hosted by Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter who won an Oscar for the film “Milk.” An invitation to the event says it will go “late” into the night.

Earlier that evening, he’ll be in London for a reception hosted by Eric Beinhocker, a University of Oxford professor and alumnus of McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm where Pete Buttigieg once worked. Lia Larson, a managing director for Goldman Sachs in London, is also a host.

Both London-area events are being co-hosted by Kevin MacLellan, chairman of global distribution and international for NBC Universal, the parent company of NBC News.

Then, Chasten Buttigieg will head to France for a reception and a dinner in Paris. He’ll join the campaign’s national investment chair there for a question-and-answer session.

A day later, Chasten Buttigieg will be in Switzerland for a fundraiser at the Geneva home of Ambassador Charles Adams, who was former President Barack Obama’s envoy to Finland and also served on the Obama campaign’s national finance committee.

Under U.S. campaign finance law, campaigns cannot accept donations from foreign nationals. But they can raise money from American citizens or green-card holders living abroad, and it's not unusual for campaigns to do so. The invitations obtained by NBC News state that attendees must provide a copy of their passport or green card to attend.

There was no immediate comment from the Buttigieg campaign.

Pro-Trump group targeting vulnerable Democrats on impeachment

WASHINGTON – As the impeachment inquiry enters its fourth week, a pro-Trump policy organization is taking out its first ads of the 2020 cycle looking to damage vulnerable Democrats in their districts, NBC News has learned.

America First Policies, the non-profit arm of the main Trump super-PAC America First Action, will spend more than $1 million to single out 28 lawmakers who the GOP-aligned group believes could face political peril amid the impeachment push. 

The 30-second spots, which echo President Donald Trump’s language and accuse House Democrats of launching a “witch hunt,” are set to appear on Facebook, via text message and on cable television.

A narrator asserts “the radical left will stop at nothing” over images of Rep. Adam Schiff, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of the so-called “Squad,” all of whom are favorite foils for the president.

The ads all start the same, but end with a focus on the particular representative in their home district, urging voters to call and tell their lawmakers to “end the witch hunt, oppose impeachment, put America first.” The appropriate phone number will flash on the screen as well. 

Notably, most of the House Democratic Caucus, which includes the two dozen in districts the president won in 2016, have called for some type of movement on impeachment, according to an NBC News tally.

“The impeachment charade must end, so we can pass better trade deals, strengthen our military, and improve our economy,” said Brian O. Walsh, president of America First Policies. “Congress needs to get back to work for the people they represent, and end these hyper-partisan investigations.”

The seven-figure campaign starts Monday and is expected to run for three weeks. The breakdown includes $283,000 for Facebook advertisements; $530,000 for texts that will urge voters to contact their representatives and $250,000 for the television portion. The broadcast ads will air in Iowa's First District, Virginia's Seventh District and Pennsylvania's Eighth District home to Democratic Reps. Abby Finkenauer, Abigail Spanberger, and Matt Cartwright. 

The organization recently conducted polling on the impeachment inquiry in key swing districts and says it found the majority of Americans “oppose impeachment, want Congress to focus on kitchen-table issues and approve of the President looking into 2016 election meddling.”

But a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey found 55 percent nationally favor the inquiry, versus 39 percent who believe there isn’t enough evidence to impeach Trump.

Vice President Mike Pence, a top surrogate on this issue, started campaigning against susceptible pro-impeachment Democrats across the country last week and will continue to do so throughout the month.

ICYMI: Stories you may have missed

WASHINGTON – Between impeachment and President Trump's decisions to remove troops from Kurdish territory in Syria and sending more troops to Saudi Arabia, some stories got lost in the shuffle. Here are some stories to keep an eye on from the week: 

A wind-fueled wildfire in the San Fernando Valley caused 13,000 homes to be under forced evacuation orders on Thursday. By Friday morning the fire ballooned from 60 to 4,700 acres and was still not under control. During the fires, Pacific Gas & Electric decided to cut the power to parts of Central and Northern California as part of fire-prevention even though the fires have not been said to be caused by power lines. 

Before taking part in trade talks with the Chinese government this week, the U.S. placed many Chinese surveillance companies on an "Entity List" which is the same restrictive list Huawei was placed on earlier this year. Officials said they made this decision because "these entities have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups." 

Federal judges in California and California blocked a Trump administration policy that would have made it easier for the government to deny legal status to immigrants who use or were deemed likely to need public assistance. The rule was set to go into effect next week. 

European Commission negotiators announced they would "intensify discussions" to try and come to an agreement for the U.K. to leave the European Union before a no-deal exit occurs. While the deadline is Oct. 31, British lawmakers passed a law that would force British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to seek an extension if a deal is not reached by next Saturday. 

Commission on Presidential Debates announces dates and venues for 2020

WASHINGTON — The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Friday its dates and venues of three general election presidential debates and one vice presidential debate. 

The first presidential debate will be held on Sept. 29, 2020 at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. That will be followed by the second debate on Oct. 15 at the University of Michigan, and the third on Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. 

The vice presidential debate will be held on Oct. 2 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. 

The Commission on Presidential Debates is a nonpartisan organization that has produced all general election debates since 1987. 

According to the CPD, in order to be participate in the debates, candidates "must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College, and have a level of support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most recently publicly-reported results at the time of the determination."

The CPD has not yet announced which polling organizations will be accepted, but the organization stated it will announce who will be participating in the first presidential debate after Labor Day in 2020. 

This will be the second time Belmont University has been selected to host a presidential debate, the first one coming in 2008. And 2020 marks the first time the commission has selected a school in either Utah or Indiana. 

How impeachment is playing in the top 2020 Senate races

WASHINGTON — As House Democrats continue their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and Republicans flock to his defense, senators facing re-election in competitive states are getting caught in the crossfire.

Here’s how the impeachment inquiry is playing out in next year’s top Senate races.

Alabama

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones has not said whether he supports impeachment, but says he supports “a fact-finding mission.”

“The allegation that the president withheld military aid in order to pressure Ukraine — even indirectly — to investigate a political opponent is a very serious matter. It’s critical to national security for the House and Senate to perform their constitutional oversight role and investigate,” Jones tweeted after the story first surfaced in late September.

Image: Sen. Chris Murphy Holds A Press Conference With Fellow Democratic Senators On Protecting Medicaid
Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) speaks during a news conference on healthcare on April 30, 2019 on Capitol Hill.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

Several of the Republicans jockeying to unseat Jones have blasted Democrats over the impeachment inquiry. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., called out Jones directly for his hesitation to pick a side.

“I have a straightforward question for Alabama’s Democrat Senator Doug Jones: Do you support these impeachment proceedings? Every leader in our country should have to say whether they stand with President Trump and the American people or if they stand with the Socialist Squad,” Byrne said in a statement.

Arizona

Appointed Republican Sen. Martha McSally has come out strongly against the House’s inquiry, but said she is supportive of the Senate Intelligence Committee looking into the matter.

Image: U.S. Senator McSally speaks during Senate Armed Services Subcommittee hearing on preventing sexual assault on Capitol Hill in Washington
U.S. Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) speaks during a Senate Armed Subcommittee hearing on preventing sexual assault where she spoke about her experience of being sexually assaulted in the military on Capitol Hill on March 6, 2019. Earlier in the hearing, McSally said she had been raped by a superior officer and felt "horrified" by how her experiences were handled.Joshua Roberts / Reuters

“Unlike what we're seeing on the House side, before they even have any facts moving forward, and some of the concerns there, the Senate Intelligence Committee has shown itself to be pretty bipartisan and thoughtful in the way they address these issues," she said on Monday.

McSally’s likely Democratic challenger, Mark Kelly, said the allegations against Trump must be investigated, but he stopped short of supporting impeachment.

"We've got to work through the details," said Kelly, a former NASA astronaut, on ABC’s “The View.” "It's a process."

Colorado

Incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has yet to take a hard stance on impeachment, though he did put out a statement denouncing Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry to appease the far-left isn’t something the majority of Americans support and will sharply divide the country,” Gardner said.

This week, Gardner struggled to answer direct questions about whether putting pressure on a foreign leader would ever be appropriate. The video of his exchange with reporters was widely circulated on social media Thursday.

Meanwhile, Gardner’s Democratic challengers, including former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, say they support impeachment. Andrew Romanoff, former speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, slammed Gardner over his continued support of Trump.

“Look, @CoryGardner — this is all you have to fear if you stand up to your party, as you promised to do in 2014: a tweetstorm from your dear leader. That and maybe a primary,” Romanoff tweeted, referencing Trump’s tweets attacking Sen. Mitt Romney, one of the few Senate Republicans to publicly condemn the president’s actions.

Georgia

Incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue has defended Trump, saying his actions do not warrant impeachment.

"There is absolutely nothing in this phone call that rises to the level of that [impeachment]," Perdue told The Associated Press.

Several of the Democrats seeking to unseat Perdue, including defeated congressional candidate Jon Ossoff, have announced their support for impeachment.

“If Trump pressured a foreign power to smear his political opponent, dangling security assistance as leverage, he should be impeached,” Ossoff tweeted.

Kentucky

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would “have no choice” but to take up impeachment proceedings if the House voted to impeach Trump.

In a new campaign ad, the incumbent Republican doubled down on his defense of Trump by promising that under his leadership, impeachment is dead on arrival.

"Nancy Pelosi's in the clutches of a left-wing mob. They finally convinced her to impeach the president," McConnell said. "All of you know your Constitution. The way that impeachment stops is a Senate majority with me as majority leader.”

"But I need your help," he added. "Please contribute before the deadline."

Democrat Amy McGrath, who’s challenging McConnell in 2020, says she supports the impeachment inquiry and has called on the Republican senator to “do his job.”

“For the record, soliciting (or accepting) dirt on your political opponents from a foreign country is wrong, un-American, and illegal. Asking foreign countries to intervene in our elections is not okay. After 34 years in Washington, I would think @SenateMajLdr would know that,” McGrath tweeted.

McConnell’s campaign has fired back at McGrath, armed with comments she made earlier this year opposing impeachment.

“Yet another flip-flop makes it all the more clear that McGrath is a political opportunist who values the contributions from her California donors over the convictions of the people of Kentucky,” McConnell’s campaign manager Kevin Golden told the Lexington Herald Leader.

Maine

Incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins has declined to comment on the House’s impeachment inquiry, but says Trump made a “big mistake” by asking China to investigate the Bidens.

“The constitutional role of a senator during an impeachment trial includes serving as a juror,” Collins said in a statement. “As such, at this point, it is not appropriate for a senator to comment on the merits of the House inquiry or to prejudge its outcome.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks to journalists while walking to the Senate floor on Jan. 24, 2019.Melina Mara / The Washington Post/Getty Images file

Sara Gideon, a Democrat seeking to unseat Collins in 2020, has not explicitly endorsed impeachment but has criticized the Republican senator for putting Trump “ahead of Mainers.”

“I’m tired of hoping that Susan Collins does the right thing when she has shown time and time again that she puts Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell ahead of Mainers,” Gideon said in a tweet.

Michigan

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Peters backed the House inquiry but has not said whether he would support Trump’s removal from office.

“Should this case come before the Senate, I will be a juror and reach my decision based on a careful and thorough evaluation of the facts,” he said in a statement.

Peters’ potential Republican challenger, John James, has stayed silent on impeachment.

North Carolina

Incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis slammed Democrats over the impeachment inquiry.

“This is yet another pathetic attempt by Democrats to destroy President Trump with falsehoods to overturn the results of the 2016 election. It has not worked in the past, and it will not work now,” he tweeted.

Cal Cunningham, one of the top Democrats seeking to unseat Tillis in 2020, stopped short of calling for impeachment, but he needled the Republican senator over previous comments in which he said it was his duty to “preserve the separation of powers and to curb ... executive overreach.”

“It’s time for Sen. Tillis to honor his words and his duty,” the former state Senator said in a statement.

Buttigieg kicks off early state organizing push following big fundraising haul

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Mayor Pete Buttigieg is kicking off what they are billing as a “Boot Pledge Pledge” weekend of action Saturday, ramping up his ground game across the four early states in the presidential primary cycle where the campaign has announced dozens of new hires and a host of canvassing and organizing events.

On the heels of a fundraising quarter where the campaign raised $19.1 million dollars, one of the top hauls in the field, Buttigieg is putting that money to use by staffing up and organizing across Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

“We are incredibly grateful for the people that are investing in this campaign,” Jess O’Connell, senior adviser to the Buttigieg campaign, told NBC News. “I think when you look at the state of the race, as it is right now in these early states, there are only a handful of campaigns that are able to have the resources to have the type of organization that is required to reach as many voters as possible for caucusing and voting.”

Pete Buttigieg steps off on his campaign bus during a four day tour of Iowa on Sept. 23, 2019.
Pete Buttigieg steps off on his campaign bus during a four day tour of Iowa on Sept. 23, 2019.Josh Lederman / NBC News

This early state push is a part of what the Buttigieg campaign is calling, “phase three.” Having introduced himself on the national stage, and secured large fundraising hauls that will allow him to stay in the race, the campaign is now focused on building out its organization on the ground to support the kind of "retail politics" that they hope will convince voters to commit to the small-town mayor. 

“More and more now there are the volunteers and the organizers on the ground by the dozens in our early states,” Buttigieg told reporters of his campaign organization in early states after an event in Ossipee, N.H. on August 25.

“And they're doing that work, forming relationships, getting the message out creatively getting in front of people who maybe don't find their way into my Twitter feed or don't tune in for a TV show I'm going to be on so that we can really expand the reach of this campaign. A lot of it happens outside of public view.”

O'Connell told NBC that with less than four months to go before voting begins, "this weekend of action is our opportunity to activate in the strongest way possible our volunteer networks, our high level of organizers.”

The campaign currently has nearly 100 staffers in Iowa and told NBC it will increase that number by about a third. It plans to mark the occasion by holding hundreds of canvasses at over 70 locations across the state this weekend, with more house meetings planned for later this month. 

In New Hampshire, the campaign now has 64 staffers on the ground and 12 field offices in the state. As part of their weekend of action the team is holding 37 events across all ten New Hampshire counties, where they are asking volunteers, grassroots organizers and community leaders to canvass throughout their neighborhoods and ask people to pledge their support to Buttigieg for the primary. The campaign also says there will be a volunteer summit in November, which will build on the weekend of action and growing organization.

 In Nevada, the campaign is hosting 17 canvassing events as a part of the weekend of action and organizing at several Las Vegas Pride events. In addition, they are opening their 7th Nevada office in West Las Vegas with Buttigieg’s husband Chasten Buttigieg this weekend, and are set to open 3 more offices ahead of the October 15th debate in the state.

And in South Carolina, the campaign team is holding 38 canvass kickoff events and set to make roughly 50,000 calls to voters throughout the weekend of action. They are also ramping up their staff numbers from the 33 already on the ground.  They currently have two field offices in the state and are planning to open two more in Charleston and Greenville ahead of the debate next week.

“This is going to be ongoing,” O’Connell said of the on-the-ground organizing emphasis. “And we've been doing this work, but I think this is one of the largest pushes.”

Booker plan to end sports 'exploitation' includes payments for college athletes

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., rolled out a plan Thursday as part of his presidential campaign that includes proposals to compensate college athletes for the use of their "name, image or likeness," and seek equal pay for women's sports, including the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team. 

“The systemic problems in sports are issues of economic justice and fairness,” Booker, who played Division I football at Stanford University, said in the campaign release.

“For too long, we have allowed exploitative practices in professional and college sports to fester — somehow treating sports as different from our broader economy. But sports at these levels is a multi-billion dollar business,” he said. “Just as we shouldn’t accept collusion, wage theft, and a massive gender pay gap in any other industry, we shouldn’t accept them in sports. When I’m president, I will work to end these injustices.”

The plan is the first of its kind from a 2020 presidential candidate. 

Booker’s plan comes in the wake of California Gov. Gavin Newsom signing legislation to allow student athletes to profit from endorsement deals and hire agents. Booker would push for a federal version of California’s bill and establish a U.S. Commission on Integrity in Sports. 

Highlights from Booker’s plan include:

  • Establish the U.S. Commission on Integrity in Sports to oversee college athletics, Olympic committees, and other national governing bodies.
  • Allow college athletes to be compensated for their “name, image, or likeness rights” by building on California’s recently passed bill and the Student-Athlete Equity act proposed in Congress.
  • Implement “aggressive, evidence-based, and enforceable standards governing the health, safety and wellness of NCAA athletes.”
  • Improve educational outcomes and graduation rates for NCAA athletes through strengthened Department of Education oversight.
  • Strengthen Title IX to improve gender equity in college sports and sign the Athletics Fair Pay Act into law to close the pay gap in professional women’s sports.
  • Require all college universities to help both current and former NCAA athletes pay sports injury-related medical bills.  

Booker’s plan targets issues within several professional sports leagues -- the U.S. women’s soccer pay gap, poor pay and working conditions for minor league baseball player, exploitative labor policies for NFL cheerleaders and NBA dancers, and anti-competitive NFL practices that led to the case of Colin Kaepernick.

Buttigieg releases plan for 'A New Era for LGBTQ+ Americans'

DES MOINES, Iowa — Ahead of his appearance at the “Power Our Pride” LGBTQ Town Hall Thursday, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is out with a new, wide-ranging policy aimed at empowering and uplifting the LGBTQ+ community. 

In the plan Buttigieg speaks to the “urgency of an unfinished promise of full equality under the law” — something he hopes to achieve by focusing on equality in all spheres of life. 

Drawing from his already proposed Douglass and Guns and Hate Action plans, Buttigieg will “vigorously enforce” hate crimes protection laws by training law enforcement specifically surrounding issues in the LGBTQ+ community, like domestic violence and hate crimes against transgender individuals, especially black trans women. 

Image: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the 2019 Presidential Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting in Galivants Ferry
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the 2019 Presidential Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting in Galivants Ferry, S.C. on Sept. 16, 2019.Randall Hill / Reuters

Buttigieg says passing such legislation will be a “top priority” for his administration. His plan also calls for an examination of what it calls unconstitutional religious exemption policies at the federal level with a promise to “refocus, reassign, or remove” offices that he says were put in place to discriminate, specifically citing offices at the Department of Health and Human Services specifically.

The plan, titled, “Becoming Whole: A New Era for LGBTQ+ Americans,” also includes a robust section aimed at addressing disparities in healthcare. The candidate vows to enact policies that will cover gender-affirming care and train clinicians to better understand the health needs of the LGTBQ+ community. For example, he intends to end the ban on blood donation from gay and bisexual men opting for a more science-based approach to determine blood donor deferral guidelines that prevent HIV transmission.

The mayor hopes to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030 by funding research and reestablishing the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. Buttigieg would also ensure universal access to anti-HIV medication, PrEP and decriminalize the transmission of HIV.

The policy also calls on Congress to pass the LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention Act, which would dedicate a task force to address risk factors that often increase rates of suicide among the community, including stigma, homelessness and bullying. In addition, Buttigieg plans to launch a public health campaign to encourage family acceptance and end discrimination against adoptive or foster parents and children based on sexual orientation or gender identity. While also putting an end to, “conversion therapy” nationwide.

Buttigieg will expand on existing programs from the Obama administration to encourage leaders in both private and public sectors to mentor LGBTQ+ youth, while increasing funding for community centers, workforce training and apprenticeship programs. 

The Buttigieg administration would immediately repeal the transgender military ban, while issuing honorable discharges to those forced to leave the service due to identifying as transgender and restoring deserved benefits. 

On the global stage, the presidential hopeful plans to strengthen protections of LGBTQ+ immigrants and refugees in the U.S. & lead against persecution internationally.

Elizabeth Warren's campaign clarifies she'll raise big-dollar money for the party as nominee

WASHINGTON — Elizabeth Warren's quote sent shockwaves through the political campaign finance world.

If she became the nominee, she said, she would refuse to attend big-dollar fundraisers — for her campaign and possibly also for the party. Her comments came in an interview with CBS News.

CBS News: "Can you guarantee your supporters that under no circumstances, no matter how much money Donald Trump is raising, you will not take big dollar ..."

Warren: "I’m not going to go do the big dollar fundraisers. I’m just not going to do it."

Image: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at a campaign rally in Keene, N.H., on Sept. 25, 2019.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at a campaign rally in Keene, N.H., on Sept. 25, 2019.Brian Snyder / Reuters file

Previously, Warren had said that her ban on high-dollar fundraisers was for the primaries — not the general election.

The significance here: Such a blanket restriction could hurt any Democratic Party effort to narrow the fundraising gap with Republicans, especially after President Trump's campaign and the Republican National Committee raised a combined $125 million in the last fundraising quarter. (By comparison, Warren raised nearly $25 million for only her campaign in the quarter.)

Barack Obama’s former national finance director, Rufus Gifford, criticized the initial report.

But in a statement to NBC News, the Warren campaign clarified that the candidate would indeed attend high-dollar events for the party (where individuals can donate tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars) — though not for the campaign (where the maximum primary and general election donation is a combined $5,600).

“When Elizabeth is the Democratic nominee for president, she’s not going to change a thing in how she runs her campaign. That means no PAC money. No federal lobbyist money. No special access or call time with rich donors or big dollar fundraisers to underwrite our campaign,” said Kristen Orthman, the campaign’s communications director.

“When she is the nominee, she will continue to raise money and attend events that are open to the press to make sure the Democratic National Committee, state and local parties, and Democratic candidates everywhere have the resources not just to beat Donald Trump but also to win back Congress and state legislatures all across the country.”

The distinction might open up Warren to charges of hypocrisy; why refuse to attend high-dollar fundraisers for your campaign, but gladly attend them for the party?

But it probably quiets Democrats like Gifford fearful that Warren — if she's the nominee — would unilaterally disarm against the Trump-RNC money machine.

Biden's higher education plan aims to ease student loan debt

Former Vice President Joe Biden released his higher education plan Tuesday, aimed at providing options to ease student loan debt and accessibility to a two or four-year institution with the goal of having more people enter the middle class.

Unlike his more progressive Democratic rivals Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Biden will only make tuition debt free for those who attend two years of community college or high-quality training programs. The Biden campaign argues that two free years of community college would cut four year education rates in half since students could transfer their credits to complete their college education.

Joe Biden speaks at the UnidosUS Annual Conference's Luncheon in San Diego
Joe Biden speaks at the UnidosUS Annual Conference's Luncheon in San Diego on Aug. 5, 2019.UnidosUS

Numerous investments to improve the quality of education in community colleges as well as HBCUs and minority institutions would cost an approximate $750 billion, which will be paid for by increasing taxes on the super wealthy and eliminating the “stepped-up basis” loophole, according to the campaign.

Warren and Sanders are proposing four years of free community and public college tuition and forgiving most if not all existing student debt, respectively.

Biden’s plan would forgive outstanding student debt for those who have responsibly paid it back for 20 years. Those working jobs in “national or community service” like teaching or non-profits, would receive $10,000 student debt relief annually for up to five years for each year that they stay in that vocational job..

People making more than $25,000 would direct pay 5 percent of their discretionary income toward their loan, which is half of the current 10 percent cap. Those who make $25,000 or less would not be expected to pay back the government and would not accrue interest. 

DREAMers, young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, would also be eligible to receive a free two-year education. They would also receive financial aid, based on requirements already established under existing financial aid eligibility.

Dr. Jill Biden, who has worked at community colleges for over 30 years and is currently teaching at Northern Virginia Community College, told reporters on a briefing call Monday evening that Biden’s plan will give students like hers the opportunity to succeed because it was crafted by educators who witness the problems with the higher education system daily.

“What means the most to me is that it comes from listening to educators and students, not telling them what we think they need. It goes beyond tuition and supports a holistic approach to retention and completion. That’s what really makes a difference in my students lives,” she said.

The focus on higher education compliments Biden’s education plan, which aims to triple federal government spending to help hire more teachers, pay teachers more, enroll all 3 and 4-year-olds into pre-Kindergarten and increase coursework rigor across the country.

Hillary Clinton camp says former candidate 'just having a little fun' with Trump tweets

WASHINGTON — Is Hillary Clinton running for president again? No, but she sure seems to be relishing the prospect of anything that gets under the president’s skin, as was evident in her response Tuesday to Trump taunting her.

A source close to Clinton indicates that nothing has changed and no, she is not planning to launch another presidential bid. “She’s just having a little fun,” this person told NBC News. 

Earlier this year, Clinton stated definitively that she was not running but also that she was “not going anywhere” and “would keep speaking out.”   

Still, the former secretary of state has raised eyebrows several times over the past year with cryptic comments and tweets, often trolling President Trump. Those close to her say that’s more about adding her voice to the conversation and less about some secret plan to seek the presidency for the third time.

As you may have seen recently, she and daughter Chelsea have a new book out about “Gutsy Women.” It certainly doesn’t take a publicity tour to get the attention of the Oval Office occupant who defeated her though. Trump consistently tweets about “Crooked Hillary” and continues to bring her up at campaign rallies across the country.

Clinton allies point to this as a major reason for her to continue to respond to Trump’s insults — both online and in interviews — and we can expect to see more of that in the months to come. “Why does he get to have all the fun?” another source said.

California Sen. Feinstein backs Biden over home-state Harris

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden over her fellow California Sen. Kamala Harris Biden campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo confirmed to NBC News on Thursday.

The news was first reported by The San Francisco Chronicle

Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden waits to be introduced during the 2019 Presidential Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting in Galivants Ferry, S.C., on Sept. 16, 2019.Randall Hill / Reuters

Feinstein’s endorsement is in no way surprising. Even before Biden jumped into the race, Feinstein told Capitol Hill reporters in January of this year that Biden was her top choice given his decades of political experience.

She welcomed Biden into her San Francisco home last week where she held a fundraiser for him and her husband Richard Blum has co-hosted numerous fundraisers for Biden since he launched his campaign in April.

But the nod gives Biden a key ally in the delegate-rich state of California. The Golden State's junior senator, Harris, is also running for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

Democrat John Bel Edwards at 45 percent in new poll of crowded field days before Louisiana gubernatorial election

WASHINGTON — A new poll out just days before Saturday's election shows Gov. John Bel Edwards, D-La., well ahead of the rest of the field with 45 percent support but short of the 50 percent he needs to avoid a runoff election.

Edwards is running in a crowded field that includes two prominent Republican candidates, Rep. Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone.

Assuming Edwards is the top vote-getter on Saturday (an almost foregone conclusion considering his station as the incumbent and the only major Democrat running), he will either win the election outright with 50 percent plus one, or move onto a runoff against the second-place finisher. 

Image: John Bel Edwards
Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at an end-of-year news conference on Dec. 20, 2017 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.Melinda Deslatte / AP

The new poll, from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, found Edwards at 45 percent of the vote, followed by Rispone at 18 and Abraham at 17. Ten percent of those surveyed were undecided. 

The poll has a margin of error of four percent, which means the majority could be in reach for Edwards and that the two Republican candidates remain locked in a tight race for second place. 

That 50-percent threshold is the big prize for Democrats on Saturday, as they’d love to avoid a runoff entirely and lock in Edwards for another term.

But Republicans have sought to drum up enthusiasm for the election to force Edwards to a runoff, and President Trump is traveling to the state for a rally on Friday, the eve of the election.

Edwards has a favorable rating of 39 percent, while 27 percent view him unfavorably. That +12 net favorability rating is the best of the top three candidates—Rispone's net favorability rating is +7 and Abraham's is +9. 

The survey also shows Edwards leading both candidates in a runoff, Rispone down 9 points and Abraham down 15 points. And the plurality of voters, 45 percent, believe the state is on the right track, compared to the 41 percent who say it's on the wrong track. 

Edwards' job approval rate is 56 percent, while 34 percent say they disapprove of his performance as governor. 

He won the 2015 gubernatorial race after a bruising battle with former Republican Sen. David Vitter, whose campaign was kneecapped by a prostitution scandal from a decade prior.

Since he’s taken office, Edwards has been one of the Democratic Party’s more conservative governors, prompting criticism from his own party by signing a strict bill limiting abortion access. But he also racked up a few high-profile wins for the Democrats, including his decision to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare.

Mason-Dixon polled 625 registered voters by phone between Oct. 1 and Oct. 4, all who said they were likely to vote in the Saturday primary. 

Trump campaign touts Republican rule changes to keep 2020 convention delegates in line

WASHINGTON — For nearly a year, President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has worked to tighten delegate rules among state Republican parties to ensure an orderly convention next summer in Charlotte, according to senior officials.

The goal is to create a “four-day television commercial to 300 million Americans and not an internal debate among a few thousand activists,” an aide told reporters on a conference call Monday.

Last week, 37 states and territories submitted plans to the Republican National Committee with their updated guidelines that would give the campaign more say over delegate selection, mostly to avoid any embarrassment and unnecessary storylines about any potential dissent.

A small group of delegates briefly seized the spotlight during the 2016 convention in Cleveland when they made a failed bid to vote down the convention rules.

This time, senior officials said, the campaign has made a concerted effort to ensure a “predetermined outcome” and essentially plan for more of a coronation than a convention.

Donald Trump
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 18, 2016.Mark J. Terrill / AP file

“We don’t care at all about the lighting or TV camera angles at the convention in Charlotte. We do care about who is seated in all the chairs on the convention floor,” an official said, arguing a “properly executed convention vote is the single most important thing a campaign can do to put their candidate on the pathway to re-election.”

The 10-month effort was underway long before the impeachment inquiry was announced, but the new backdrop becomes more relevant as he continues to fight the congressional review.

For months, the campaign and the RNC have dismissed the president’s primary challengers: former Rep. Joe Walsh, former Gov. Bill Weld and former Gov. Mark Sanford.

“We don’t pay any mind to the guys trying to run in the primary,” one official quipped, noting their focus extends far beyond the summer and into the general to make sure the president is in “the best position to win” next November.

“If any of them paid any amount of attention to the rules that govern the delegate process, they’d know that the pathway has already been closed.”

Earlier this year, several places canceled their presidential primary contests, including in critical early nominating states Nevada and South Carolina. Officials maintained the newer “nuanced” rule changes in dozens of states are “arguably more impactful.”

Now, many states have passed bylaw amendments to bind their delegates to a “winner takes all” election outcome, effectively streamlining and “reshaping” the selection process for the convention.

Notably, on the call, officials pointed to Massachusetts — Weld’s home state — as a place where the campaign felt delegates might be disproportionately allocated, thought they stressed the rule-altering “is not being done from a position of weakness.”  

Image: Delegates scream and yell after announcment that the convention would not hold a roll-call vote at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio
Delegates yell after the temporary chairman of the Republican National Convention announced that the convention would not hold a roll-call vote on the Rules Committee's report and rules changes and rejected the efforts of anti-Trump forces to hold such a vote in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 18, 2016.Mark Kauzlarich / Reuters file

The campaign also pointed to history and the fact that only five presidents who sought re-election were denied a second term. That’s why it was important to confirm state parties have their “ducks in a row,” they said. 

 As the titular leader of the GOP, the president gets to control his party rules and dictate strategy. The incumbency also provides plenty of advantages, including a long runway to make and execute these kinds of plans at the state level.

Aides painted the move as a strategic insurance policy to appear as united and organized as possible heading into next year’s election.

The campaign reiterated it is uniquely positioned to have this stronghold since Trump is the only candidate to ever file for re-election on the day of his inauguration.

Harris: I would vote in Senate to remove President Trump from office

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Monday that she would vote to convict President Trump and remove him from office if faced with the choice in the Senate today, arguing that Trump has shown a "consciousness of guilt and attempt to cover up" an attempt to push a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election. 

During an interview on MSNBC Harris entertained the hypothetical vote, which would have to follow a majority vote in the House to impeach Trump. The president can be removed from office after a majority vote for impeachment in the House and a two-thirds vote to remove him in the Senate, a situation seen as unlikely considering GOP control of the Senate. 

"The main subject of the impeachment, which is the issue of yet again, Donald Trump eliciting help from a foreign government to interfere in our election of our president of the United States. In this case we’ve basically got a confession.  We’ve got a display of consciousness of guilt and attempt to cover up," she said.

"You know, I don’t know how much we need but apparently there’s a second whistleblower,  so we’re going to get more. But based on everything we know, including an admission by this president, I don’t know that it leads in any other direction except to vote yes, which is what I believe I will do based on everything I know."

Prominent New York Dems face a new crop of young primary challengers for 2020

In 2018, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was celebrating her longshot primary victory over 10-term Democratic congressman Joe Crowley, two other young progressive New York congressional candidates had fallen just short in their challenges against longtime lawmakers. 

Both are back in for 2020, but this time they’re not alone. 

Galvanized by Ocasio-Cortez’s victory and the Democratic Party’s resurgent left wing, a young, diverse group of candidates has emerged to take on four more of New York City’s most prominent Democrats.

The two returning candidates are Suraj Patel, a 35-year-old former Obama staffer who lost a 2018 challenge to 13-term Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney by under 9,000 votes, and Adam Bunkedekko, a 31-year-old Harvard Business graduate and son of Ugandan refugees, who came within 1,100 votes of unseating six-term incumbent Yvette Clarke in Brooklyn’s 9th District.

They’re joined by new congressional hopefuls who range in age from 25 to their mid-40s, a youth movement that stands in contrast to the four incumbents, whose average age is over 63 years old.  

The challengers all support the progressive policies du jour — Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Many also back abolishing ICE and banning assault weapons, policies that are controversial nationwide but crowd-pleasers in the deep-blue city.

And while the current representatives have served a combined 66 terms and were all once members of the State Assembly or the City Council, none of their rivals have held elected office. Most are political newcomers, and several got their start in politics on recent insurgent campaigns that inspired their own runs.

Shaniyat Chowdhury, a 27-year-old bartender and former Marine, is Ocasio-Cortez’s former deputy policy director. Like his old boss, he is trying to unseat the Queens Democratic Party Chair: Rep. Gregory Meeks, who replaced Crowley last year.

But he faces a steeper challenge than Ocasio-Cortez, who harnessed the shifting demographics of her rapidly-diversifying district to put Crowley, who first won the 14th district when it was 58 percent white in 1998, on the defensive. Meeks’ district is solidly-middle-class, majority black and has seen far less population turnover than the 14th over the past decade. 

Mel Gagarin, a 37-year-old member of the Democratic Socialists of America challenging Rep. Grace Meng, worked as an organizer on Tiffany Cabán’s DSA-backed campaign for Queens District Attorney.

Jonathan Herzog, a 2015 Harvard graduate, previously served as Andrew Yang’s Iowa campaign coordinator before mounting his challenge to Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler. Also challenging Nadler is 25-year-old cryptocurrency analyst Amanda Frankel.

Yet another challenger to Nadler has the backing of more traditional political benefactors. Lindsey Boylan, 35, is a former official in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration. She raised a respectable $250,000 to start her campaign, including donations from former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey and former CIA director George Tenet (both work at the same firm as Boylan’s husband). But it’s unclear if Boylan, whose campaign began because of what she called Nadler’s failure to pursue President Trump’s impeachment more aggressively , can maintain momentum as the House launches a full-throated impeachment inquiry.

Only one challenger so far is supported by Justice Democrats, the political action committee that helped power Ocasio-Cortez to victory: Jamaal Bowman, a middle school principal running against Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel.

Like Joe Crowley, Engel is white, and like Crowley’s district, the 16th District is majority-minority (31 percent black and 25 percent Hispanic). But Bowman, who is black, cannot count on the same demographic shifts as Ocasio-Cortez. Engel’s district has been majority-minority for the 30 years he has represented it, and Engel has dispatched previous primary challengers with ease. 

For her part, Ocasio-Cortez has not made endorsements in her neighbors’ fights. But her 2018 victory remains a guiding light for New York’s newest insurgents. 

Of course, it also serves as a warning light for the remaining incumbents. Unlike Crowley, they won’t be caught off guard this time.

 

Trump remains underwater in Virginia, Northam’s approval jumps up

WASHINGTON — Just 37 percent of registered voters in Virginia approve of President Donald Trump’s job performance, while a majority — 51 percent — now give Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam a thumbs-up in the state, according to a new public poll conducted by the Wason Center at Christopher Newport University.

The turnaround for Northam is statistically significant: Six months ago, after facing allegations that he appeared in a racist photo during his days in medical school, Northam’s job rating sank to 40 percent in the same poll, with 49 percent of state voter disapproving of his job.

After initially saying that he was in the photo and apologizing, Northam later denied being either man in the picture. He did, however, admit he wore shoe polish on his face during a Michael Jackson impersonation at a 1984 dance competition. 

Image: Ralph Northam, Pam Northam
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, with his wife, Pam, refused calls to resign after a racist yearbook photo emerged in February.Steve Helber / AP file

Now the poll shows that 51 percent approve of Northam’s job, while 37 percent disapprove.

With Virginia holding important state legislative elections in November, the Wason Center survey also finds grim numbers for President Trump and the Republican Party in the state.

In addition to Trump’s job-approval rating at just 37 percent in the state, Democrats hold a 13-point lead on the generic ballot, with 49 percent of likely voters saying that they’ll vote for a Democrat in November’s elections, while 36 percent will vote for Republicans.

The poll was conducted Sept. 4-30 of 726 registered voters (which has a margin of error of plus-minus 4.1 percentage points) and 566 likely voters (plus-minus 4.6 percentage points).

Trump campaign spends more than $500,000 on anti-Biden, anti-impeachment ads

WASHINGTON — President Trump's re-election campaign has spent more than a half-million dollars over the last eight days on three ads that repeat unproven allegations of impropriety by former Vice President Joe Biden with Ukraine and attack Democrats for trying to impeach him. 

The ads are part of a previously announced digital and cable buy from the campaign that it says will total $8 million across both platforms.

The campaign has spent the most money so far ($348,000, according to media-tracking firm Advertising Analytics) on a spot that frames the impeachment inquiry and special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation as part of an effort to nullify Trump's 2016 victory. 

"They couldn't defeat him, so now the swamp is trying to take him out. First, the Mueller investigation. Now, Ukraine. Politics at its worst," a narrator says as images of Mueller and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., are displayed on the screen. 

"It isn't pretty, the swamp hates him. But Mr. Nice Guy won't cut it. It takes a tough guy to change Washington — it takes Donald Trump." 

Team Trump has also spent almost $174,000 so far on another spot focused primarily on his unproven accusations against Biden, arguing that Democrats are treating the two situations with a double standard

"They lost the election, now they want to steal this one. Don't let them," the ad says. 

A third spot that emphasizes similar themes started airing on Sunday as well. So far, the campaign has spent about $14,000 to air that ad. 

The attacks primarily accuse Biden of pressuring a Ukranian prosecutor to resign and connecting that act to an investigation by that prosecutor into a company that Biden's son, Hunter, worked for. 

But the decision to push out the prosecutor was supported at the time by the international community.  

The majority of the spending has gone toward airing ads on national television. But the anti-Biden ads have also been running as part of more targeted buys in states that hold early nominating contests in the Democratic presidential primary like Nevada, Iowa and South Carolina.

   

Eight presidential candidates stump at SEIU summit

LOS ANGELES — Eight Democratic presidential hopefuls arrived in Los Angeles this weekend to seek the support of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) at their 2019 presidential forum.

In attendance: Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., former HUD Sec. Julian Castro,  ex-Rep. Beto O’Rourke and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

The candidates faced a wide variety of questions about migrant detention centers, police reform and climate change. While the topics strayed from labor-specific issues, in the eyes of the SEIU, these are questions central to the labor movement.

“We see all these fights is inextricably linked,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the SEIU. “All of these things that impact our lives, we want to hear from the next presidential candidate what they're going to do.”

While all candidates spoke at length about labor issues and their personal connections to unions, some of the biggest responses they got from SEIU members came from their answers on immigration, ending mass incarceration, and health care. 

Warren received a minute-long standing ovation during her answer about shutting down for-profit detention facilities along the border, with SEIU members clapping their hands and chanting “yes we can.” 

Booker fired up members in his closing remarks about ending mass incarceration and expunging non-violent drug offense records. Biden choked up on stage when recounting the story of his son Beau Biden’s cancer diagnosis and pledged to “protect your right to health care as it were my own family.”

Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Attend "Union For All" Summit In Los Angeles
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the SEIU Unions for All Summit in Los Angeles, California on Oct. 4, 2019.Mario Tama / Getty Images

While addressing union members, candidates were also exposed to an active and diverse voter base. 

“SEIU represents over 2 million members in all walks of life, and all races, creed, nationalities, orientation, and we can all feel inclusive here,” said Maureen Casey, chapter president of the Hershey Medical Center SEIU in Pennsylvania. “And so we want to know that the President or whoever we support as the union or in our personal views aligns with our principles of being all inclusive for all of all of America.”

SEIU members said they were generally impressed with the candidates but were hesitant to single out a particular candidate.

“I think we really got a chance to see which candidates listen and how they tend to listen,” said Packy Moran, who works as a lecturer at the University of Iowa.  “I think that all eight candidates did well to understand that there's a huge intersectionality between everything that goes on in their campaign and the union, and what we're trying to do in terms of organizing workers and organizing everyone to have more say in their quality of life.”

Others thought it was  too early to pick a candidate and appreciated the chance to hear from a larger field.

“I think it's too early to say,” said Leonardo Diaz, an Uber and Lyft driver who is working to form a union for gig-economy workers. “Because, you know, we’re just listening to them what they saying because everybody — they can promise a lot of things, but we have to see, or sometimes we have to read more about their backgrounds what they did before.”

While candidates are waiting to see who the SEIU will endorse, the organization doesn't feel its on a deadline. 

“I don't know when,” Henry said when asked about when endorsements would come out. “The trigger is local unions, engaging their members through surveys, polls, text messaging, phone banks, meetings, and then listening to our members who, frankly, are kind of all over the map on who they like or what they think.”

But SEIU was impressed with the amount of candidates who came to this forum. Henry suggested that the Democratic field for this cycle has been more pro-union, saying that “they've been way more willing to call out corporations, which is very different than our past experience.”

“They used to do it more in the backchannel,” Henry said. “They would do it politely. Now, they're sort of standing with workers. And I would say that's a big shift.”

ICYMI: Stories that got lost in the shuffle

WASHINGTON – With the news cycle jammed amid each drip of the House's impeachment inquiry into President Trump, here are a few of the week's other political stories that got a little lost in the shuffle:

While the unemployment rate fell to a new low of 3.5 percent, economists had predicted the September job numbers to add 145,000 new jobs. The report showed a gain of 136,000 jobs. The new data was released after a turbulent week on Wall Street with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing over a thousand points. 

The Supreme Court will hear a case challenging a Louisiana law that requires abortion clinic doctors to have hospital admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. Women's groups say the law would leave just one doctor able to perform abortions in the state. This is the first major abortion case the Court will hear since Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the bench. 

NBC News was given an exclusive look inside camps thought to be detaining a million Muslim Uighers in China. While it's impossible to know if the conditions of the camp were improved or changed for NBC News' visit, the U.S. government and human rights organizations believe about 10 percent of the Uighur population in Xinjiang is locked up. 

According to the South Korea military, North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Wednesday. Japan responded saying the missile landed inside of Japan's economic exclusive zone which, if true, would be the closest a North Korean missile got to Japan since November 2017. U.S. and North Korean officials plan to meet within the next week to resume nuclear talks. 

Biden bashes Trump as 'most corrupt president we've had'

LOS ANGELES — Joe Biden Friday gave his most forceful response yet to President Donald Trump's repeated attacks and claims that the former vice president and his son, Hunter Biden, should be investigated for unproven charges of corruption. 

“We got to get something straight. All this talk from the president about corruption comes from the most corrupt president we've had in modern history, he's the definition of corruption,” Biden told reporters in his first press availability in the nearly two weeks since the the Ukraine controversy erupted.

Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Attend "Union For All" Summit In Los Angeles
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the SEIU Unions for All Summit in Los Angeles, California on Oct. 4, 2019.Mario Tama / Getty Images

"He has corrupted the agencies of government," Biden continued, adding that Trump's efforts are "all about making sure that he in fact allowed somebody else to pick his opponent for him. That's what this is about. And I am not going to stand for it."

“He’s indicted himself by his own statements.”

Charges that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine and put pressure on that country's president to investigate the Bidens are the basis for the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives.

Biden's tone was sharper than usual, stressing his words and pointing his fingers to accentuate the points he was making against a president he said he fears will only grow more erratic as the impeachment inquiry accelerates.

“I'm worried that he gets so unhinged, under the year left to go in this administration, he does something really, really, really stupid in terms of our international interest. I don't mean about our election, he's basically acknowledged he's tried to get people to interfere in our election.”

The Biden campaign released a new ad Saturday attacking President Trump's comments as part of a $6 million broadcast and digital ad buy in the four early primary states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. 

Biden again insisted that he and his son did not have conflicts of interest when he oversaw U.S.-Ukrainian relations as vice president while Hunter advised a Ukrainian energy company.

Pressed to acknowledge questions about the appearance of his son't work, a defensive Biden said there was “no indication of any conflict of interest, in Ukraine or anywhere else, period.” He also stood by his statement that he had never discussed business with his son after being asked about a picture that showed him golfing with Hunter and a Ukrainian businessman.

“Let's focus on the problem. Focus on this man, what he's doing, that no president has ever done. No President.”

Asked if he would vote to impeach the president if he were still serving in the Senate, Biden responded, "I am not going to speculate what I would do in the Senate."

New Hampshire voters scrutinize health care plans in 2020 candidates

MANCHESTER, N.H. — As Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., fights to maintain an edge over former Vice President Joe Biden in New Hampshire, the progressive senator is also struggling to differentiate herself from the ideologically similar Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., — especially when it comes to health care, a top issue for first-in-the-nation voters.

Image: 2020 Democratic Presidential hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during a town hall at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California
2020 Democratic Presidential hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during a town hall at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California on Aug. 21, 2019.Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images file

It's one of the biggest differences between the Democratic presidential candidates, and while Biden is advocating to continue to build on the Affordable Care Act, Warren has embraced rival Sanders’ Medicare for All plan.

But for Granite Staters who have grown accustomed to Warren having a plan for everything, her lack of a distinctive health care proposal could be a make-or-break for who they decided to support.  

“I'm a co-sponsor on a plan that's out there, and I'm with Bernie on Medicare For All,” Warren told reporters in Keene, N.H. on Sept. 25. “We need to make sure that everybody is covered at the lowest possible cost, and draining money out for health insurance companies to make a lot of profits by saying no, and bankrupting families over their healthcare bills is just not working for America.”

For some New Hampshire voters, her stance isn’t good enough.

“I think she has to be more clear,” said Warren supporter Susan Jones of Pelham, N.H., saying that the neighboring senator needs to explain how she intends to pay for her version of Medicare for All. 

“She always says she’s going to come out with a plan and you never hear one,” Jones told NBC News. “(Sanders) says he’s going to raise taxes and I don’t mind that because ... if you have to raise it a little, raise it somewhat, it’s still going to cover the cost of what you pay for your insurance.”

Sanders, who often touts having written "the damn bill,” for Medicare for All, doesn’t shy away from telling voters that they would be taxed more in order to implement the coverage.

“I don’t want to lie to you,” Sanders said in Manchester, N.H. on Sept. 30, at a Medicare for All small business town meeting. On the trail, he often points to the universal coverage that countries like Canada provide for its citizens, with medication a fraction of the cost compared to in the United States.

In the latest Monmouth University poll of registered New Hampshire Democrats and unaffiliated voters, a majority (56 percent) would like to have a health care public option in addition to private insurance, 23 percent want to replace private insurance with a single public plan like Medicare for All, 10 percent would like to see any reforms limited to better regulation of costs, and 8 percent prefer no changes to the current system. 

Among voters who want a single-payer plan, 40 percent back Warren, 24 percent back Sanders, 17 percent back Biden and 2 percent back South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, D-Ind. Among those who prefer a public option, 27 percent back Biden, 25 percent back Warren, 14 percent back Buttigieg and 7 percent back Sanders. 

New Hampshire has the second oldest median age in the country, and the 226,804 senior citizens in the state account for 17 percent of the population. Health care is a particularly critical issue for this voting bloc, which is expected to double by 2040. 

Kathleen Chertok from Keene, N.H. says she will likely support Warren in the primary and that she would “probably” want Medicare for All to be implemented — but she is also skeptical of its practicality to happen in this political moment.

“I think a lot of candidates have very strong ideas, they don’t always happen immediately,” she said. “So if we didn’t get right there, that would be okay. I worked in health care for a long time, I'm very disillusioned about our health care system and think we need a big change. It's a right for everybody and shouldn't be based on jobs.”

Some Granite Staters, like undecided voter Corrine Dodge, are open to ideas.

“I am looking for someone who will give us comprehensive health care,” said Dodge, who is deciding between Warren, Sanders and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI. “Right now I’m looking at Medicare for All. I know somewhere in between there can be compromise, but we need to do something different.”

Other voters are giving their support to candidates citing health care as an argument for electability.

“When I was looking at candidates this was one thing that put me behind Buttigieg,” Monica Swenson, of Bow, N.H., told NBC News. She said her decision to support Buttigieg was because of his support for Medicare for all who want it. “Everyone has a right to medical insurance. I think Bernie and Warren will scare too many people with Medicare for All. I feel giving a choice opens it up to all voters and we can keep working toward equity.”

This week, the Buttigieg campaign announced a six-figure digital ad buy in New Hampshire highlighting his support for "Medicare for All Who Want It." That argument could have sway in a state where 57 percent of residents get private insurance through their employers.  

Doreen Ramos, from Keene, N.H., owns an elder care company and currently suffers from kidney disease. She told NBC News that health care was one of her top issues, and that while she’d love to eventually see a program like Medicare for All implemented across the country, she recognizes that getting that to happen right now is unrealistic. She is an undecided Democratic voter but is leaning towards supporting Biden for president.

“In this country have to figure out a long term care,” she said. “I think Medicaid for All, single-payer system is the way to go, but at some point the country should get there.”

Trump campaign targets Biden in key early states

WASHINGTON — As the impeachment inquiry intensifies, President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is taking to the airwaves in the early voting states to slam former Vice President Joe Biden on Ukraine.

Starting this weekend, the campaign will dedicate more than $1 million of an already-existing $8 million ad buy toward anti-Biden spots in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina’s local markets.

The 30-second commercial, titled "Biden Corruption," starts with an ominous voice over: “Joe Biden promised Ukraine $1 billion if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company.” It does not mention, however, that the prosecutor in question was widely denounced for not investigating corruption more intensely.

The ad also accuses Democrats of wanting to “steal” the 2020 election after losing last cycle. It has already aired nationally on cable, though CNN is refusing to air it. In a statement, CNN said the ad "makes assertions that have been proven demonstrably false by various news outlets, including CNN." 

But Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh insists that “voters should know about the self-dealing, influence-peddling Bidens as the campaign season progresses.”

The Biden campaign, for its part, announced a $6 million ad buy on Thursday, partially to counter the Trump team’s on-air assault. 

After recently announcing a whopping $125 million haul — combined with the Republican National Committee — in the third quarter, the president’s campaign is flush with cash for this kind of spending. 

Notably, Trump’s re-election team released three impeachment-related ads in less than a week. The other two, entitled “Coup” and “Changing Things,” accuse the Democrats of wanting to “take the president out” for purely political reasons.

Sanders campaign says candidate is 'looking forward to the October debate' after hospitalization

LAS VEGAS — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., remains in a Las Vegas hospital recovering from heart surgery, but is expected to be discharged "before the end of the weekend" and attend the October debate according to his wife, Jane. 

"Bernie is up and about. Yesterday, he spent much of the day talking with staff about policies, cracking jokes with the nurses and doctors, and speaking with his family on the phone. His doctors are pleased with his progress, and there has been no need for any additional procedures," Jane Sanders said in a statement released by the campaign Thursday. 

"We expect Bernie will be discharged and on a plane back to Burlington before the end of the weekend. He'll take a few days to rest, but he's ready to get back out there and is looking forward to the October debate.” 

The Vermont senator fell ill Tuesday night after a fundraiser in Las Vegas, complaining about chest discomfort. Doctors ultimately inserted two stents after finding a blocked artery. 

The recent statement from Jane Sanders amounted to the first major update from the Sanders campaign since it initially announced the surgery. 

As Sanders recovers, his campaign pulled a recently announced $1.3 million television ad buy in Iowa in what the campaign called a "postponement." Just a day earlier, Sanders announced he raised more than $25 million in the third fundraising quarter, a massive haul larger than any quarterly haul by a Democratic presidential campaign so far. 

Meanwhile, campaign surrogates will be holding events in New Hampshire and South Carolina after the Senator had to miss an appearance at a Las Vegas gun safety forum co-hosted by MSNBC. 

Sanders' health has put a spotlight on the advanced age of the leading Democratic candidates. All three of the top polling candidates — Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — are at least 70 years old.  Sanders is 78 years old, while Biden is 76 and Warren is 70. 

President Trump is 73 years old. 

Dr. Daniel Munoz, the director of the cardiac intensive care unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who was not involved in Sanders' care, told NBC News that the procedure is not unusual and that while each case is different, people generally "take it easy for about a week before returning to a full schedule." 

The next Democratic debate is on Oct. 15 in Ohio. 

Immigration, health care dominating Kentucky gov airwaves

WASHINGTON — One month before Kentucky's gubernatorial election, the ad wars are cutting along familiar lines — with Republicans spending heavily on immigration and Democrats focusing on health care. 

Almost half of the $748,000 spent on television ads in the race over the last seven days has been on immigration. Republicans, including Gov. Matt Bevin's campaign and other outside groups, have spent the vast majority of that ($272,000) on ads that accuse Democratic Attorney Gen. Andy Beshear of supporting sanctuary cities, evoking images of notorious gang MS-13 and linking illegal immigration to the opioid crisis. 

Beshear's campaign is also up with one immigration ad, which aims to push back at those attacks and emphasize his endorsement from the state's Fraternal Order of the Police. 

Meanwhile, much of the Beshear campaign's primary messaging is around health care, a strategy evocative of the one that helped Democrats flip a bevy of purple House seats in 2018 (but notably fall short in a Lexington-area district). 

The top two spots for Democrats are super PAC spots attacking Bevin on pre-existing conditions.

And Bevin's campaign has spent about $95,000 on a spot highlighting Bevin's opposition to abortion rights. 

Taken in total, that means that 86 percent of all ad spending in the race focuses primarily on these two issues, more proof that both sides are doubling down on the messaging that's been central to their parties in recent elections. 

Biden to Trump: 'I'm not going anywhere'

RENO, Nev. — Former Vice President Joe Biden delivered his most forceful remarks to date scorning President Donald Trump for putting his own re-election interests over national security and stressing that the president’s attempt to intimidate him will not make him back down as a candidate for the presidency. 

“Let me make something clear to Trump and his hatchet men and the special interests funding his attacks against me: I’m not going anywhere. You’re not going to destroy me. And you’re not going to destroy my family. I don’t care how much money you spend or how dirty the attacks get,” Biden said passionately to an applauding crowd made up of roughly 600 people inside the student center at Truckee Meadows Community College. 

Joe Biden speaks at the Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas
Joe Biden speaks at the Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas on Oct. 2, 2019.Gabe Ginsberg / for MSNBC

Biden went after Trump for putting national security at risk to “pursue a personal political vendetta” against a potential Democratic opponent. He called it “Exhibit A” in the lists of abuses of power

He also challenged Trump, who he called “unhinged,” in his attempts to try and pick his Democratic opponent in a campaign shaped “on his terms.” 

“I will put the integrity of my whole career in public service to this nation up against his long record of lying and cheating and stealing any day of the week,” Biden said. The line received a standing ovation from the crowd. 

Biden remarks came after President Donald Trump continued to promote false claims about the former vice president’s record in the Ukraine and the role his son Hunter Biden played while advising a Ukrainian energy company in the same time period.

At a press conference Wednesday alongside the Norwegian president, Trump refused to respond to a reporter’s question asking what specifically he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate about the Biden’s. Avoiding the repeated question, Trump simply said “Biden and his son are stone-cold crooked” without providing factual evidence. 

Biden began his speech by ticking through instances where Trump “corrupted and weaponized key agencies of government” as laid out by House investigating committees and the whistleblower’s complaint, someone who he called “courageous” for exposing the president’s “scheme.” 

For the first time since reports of the whistleblower complaint broke, Biden explained his own record while doing business in Ukraine in an effort to clear the narrative hurled against him and Hunter by Trump and his allies that he called for the ousting of a prosecutor who had investigated the company Hunter was advising. 

Biden said his role was to “root out corruption in Ukraine” alongside democratic organizations like the European Union and the International Monetary Fund and backed by the U.S. government. 

“This was a fully transparent policy carried out in front of the whole world and fully embraced by the international community of democracies,” he said. “We weren’t pressing Ukraine to get rid of a tough prosecutor, we were pressing them to replace a weak prosecutor who wouldn’t do his job.” 

Biden blamed Trump for trying to distract the election from the issues, telling the crowd that every “crazed” tweet he wastes time on issues that Biden, as president, would prioritize from climate change to healthcare reform. 

He told the crowd, who was clearly feeding off his energy, that he would refuse to fall victim to Trump’s “lies, smears, distortions and name calling” to instead focus on representing the people and put their interests the White House. 

“I’m not going to let him get away with this. I’m not backing down.”

Booker rolls out child poverty plan

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is out with a new plan specifically targeting child poverty as part of his presidential bid. 

Citing a new study by Columbia University’s Center on Poverty & Social Policy, Booker's campaign says his plan could lift 7.3 million children out of poverty.

“When it comes to child poverty, we cannot be silent,” said Booker in the release. “In the richest country in the world, we have a moral responsibility to look after each other and make sure that every child living in America has the opportunity to grow and thrive.”

“We all benefit when everyone has a stake in our economy. Building on the same American spirit that gave us Social Security, Medicare, nutrition assistance, and so much more, we must come together to ensure that every child has a fair shot to participate in and benefit from our collective promise.”

Booker’s proposal builds on his existing labor, housing and Baby Bond plans, as well as his proposed Senate legislation like the Rise Credit to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The new plan aims to meet basic needs, make work a pathway out of poverty, and knock down barriers to access by:

  • Expanding the Child Tax Credit to create a $250-300 “child allowance” for families with kids
  • Increasing the maximum SNAP benefit (food stamps) by 30 percent, rescinding Trump administration food stamp work requirements and expanding access to summer meals and free and reduced school lunches
  • Increase funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a federal program that gives grants for families in need. 
  • Creating a national transitional jobs program with government-subsidized wages geared toward people living in poverty
  • Passing the Child Care for Working Families Act to increase federal investment in high quality, affordable childcare
  • Eliminating immigration status eligibility requirements for all safety net programs, including health coverage, and rescinding the Trump administration’s “public charge rule” that targets immigrants for deportation if they use such programs 

The release notes there has not been a presidential debate question on child poverty since 1999, and criticizes that “issues of child poverty have been almost entirely absent from the campaign trail, despite the moral and economic imperative to act.”

In Booker’s home of Newark, NJ, 39 percent of children lived in households below the poverty line, according to a 2017 report.

Trump campaign spends more than $2 million on Facebook after Dems begin impeachment push

President Trump’s reelection campaign has launched a massive counteroffensive online in the wake of the House’s impeachment inquiry, spending more than $2.3 million dollars on Facebook ads last week.

“They are trying to stop ME because I am fighting for YOU,” reads one ad designed to reach voters in states across the country.  “President Trump wakes up every day and battles the Fake News Media and a Radical Democrat Party. He does this because he loves the American people!” reads another.

The Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising operation between the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, has spent $1.2 million on Facebook between September 24 and September 30 to run ads on Trump's Facebook page, according to data publicly available via Facebook's ad library report.

The committee has also spent $820,000 to run ads through Vice President Mike Pence's page - his ads are focused largely on driving people to Trump rallies, while Trump's ad focuses on peddling an image of a President under attack and driving donations. Trump’s campaign has spent another $356,000 over the past week.

A large number of the Facebook ads currently running on Trump's page include a recently released video that aims to tie Vice President Biden to the Ukraine scandal and accuses the Democrats of trying to “steal” the 2020 elections.

Since May 2018, the Trump reelection campaign has spent nearly $20 million on the platform, Facebook data shows. And the reelection effort is raking in cash — the campaign and the RNC announced Tuesday it raised $125 over the last three months

Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, said in a statement that the campaign is spending $8 million on an advertising buy to run that video on both cable and digital channels. It’s unclear, however, how much the campaign is planning to spend through each medium.  

Also on Tuesday, the RNC placed almost $2.1 million in broadcast advertising time in a handful of markets, many home to vulnerable Democratic House members, according to data from media-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. 

By comparison, in the same time span, former Vice President Joe Biden has spent $111,000 on the platform. In many of those ads, Biden’s campaign is using Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to drive potential Biden supporters to sign a "Stand with Joe" petition, asking users to share their contact info”

Klobuchar makes first TV ad buy in Iowa, New Hampshire

LAS VEGAS — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is getting on the airwaves in all-important Iowa and New Hampshire.

The campaign will spend six figures on its first TV ad buy of the Democratic primary, according to a campaign official. The thirty-second spot, shared first with NBC News, highlights Klobuchar's bipartisan, moderate pitch to voters. 

"If you feel stuck in the middle of the extremes in our politics and you are tired of the noise and the nonsense, you’ve got a home with me," she says in the ad. 

The ad closes with the Minnesota Senator on the Democratic debate stage, stating: "I don’t want to be the president for half of America. I want to be the president for all of America."

Klobuchar's move to get on TV comes as other campaigns are beginning to put their campaign war chests into advertising as well.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced his first paid TV ad Monday — a more than $1 million buy in the Hawkeye State. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren's, D-Mass., campaign recently announced in a memo that it would begin an ad-buying blitz across the early voting states for TV and digital, to the tune of eight-figures.

Trump, RNC combine for $125 million raised in third quarter

WASHINGTON – In a massive show of fundraising force, President Donald Trump’s re-election team announced Tuesday it had raised a record $125 million in the third quarter of 2019.

This giant haul, amassed between the president’s 2020 operation and the Republican National Committee, comes as the combined GOP effort is amassing an overwhelming war chest while Trump's possible Democratic rivals are still spending their way through a primary. 

The Trump campaign reported having $156 million cash on hand, with a monstrous $308 million raised this year alone — approaching the $333 million the Trump team raised during the entire 2016 cycle.

Image: President Donald Trump holds a Make America Great Again Rally in Las Vegas
President Trump at a rally in Las Vegas on Sept. 20.John Gurzinski / EPA

 

A major contributing factor to the strong fundraising is the current impeachment inquiry stemming from the president’s conversations with the leader of Ukraine, according to RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

“We are investing millions on the airwaves and on the ground to hold House Democrats accountable, highlight their obstruction, and take back the House and re-elect President Trump in 2020,” McDaniel said in a statement to NBC News.

The campaign quickly capitalized on the announcement of the congressional investigation last week. Within 24 hours of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s press conference announcing the impeachment inquiry, the Trump team said it raised $5 million.

By the end of the week, Trump’s son Eric was boasting the campaign had attracted 50,000 new donors as well. During that time, the president himself headlined fundraisers in New York City that brought in $8 million.

That, combined with a giant two-day swing in California the week before, meant the campaign alone raised nearly $30 million in the last two weeks of the quarter. 

“President Trump has built a juggernaut of a campaign, raising record amounts of money at a record pace,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said, delighting in the “absolutely huge” figures.

Unlike other presidents in recent history, Trump virtually never stopped running even after his 2016 victory. He is the only president in modern history to file paperwork for another term on the day of his inauguration.

The campaign and RNC did not provide a detailed breakdown of the numbers. More information about the fundraising effort, including how much the Trump-aligned committees spent last quarter, will be available by Oct. 15, the deadline for committees to file third-quarter fundraising reports. 

More than 50 former female ambassadors call on administration to protect Yovanovitch

WASHINGTON — More than 50 former female U.S. ambassadors are calling on President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a letter to protect foreign service officers from political retaliation in the wake of the ousting of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. 

The signatories of the letter are members of an organization of current and former ambassadors, Women Ambassadors Serving America. They point specifically to Trump’s comments about Yovanovitch to Ukrainian President Zelenskiy during a July 25 phone call, saying they “demean and threaten” the former ambassador and “raise serious concerns.” 

Image: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speak during a press conference at the Palace Hotel on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the Palace Hotel on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 26, 2019.Darren Ornitz / Reuters

“This appears to be a threat of retaliation for political reasons, which is both shocking and inappropriate,” they write. “For U.S. diplomacy to be an effective instrument of statecraft, it is vital that the non-partisan, non-political work of the dedicated public servants of the U.S. Department of State be respected and honored — just as we honor the contributions of U.S. military service members and other government colleagues.” 

Among those who signed the letter are former U.N. ambassador Samantha Power and Dana Shell Smith, former U.S. ambassador to Qatar. 

Only one current U.S. ambassador signed the letter: Catherine Ebert-Gray, a career foreign service officers who serves as the U.S. envoy to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Her signature comes with a notable caveat; She adds that “The views expressed are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. government. Signing a public letter critical of the Trump administration could put current ambassadors at professional risk, which likely explains why Ebert-Gray is the only one to sign the letter.

Yovanovitch, a career diplomat who was named ambassador to Ukraine at the end of President Barack Obama’s second term, was abruptly recalled by Trump in May, ahead of when her term in Kiev was scheduled to end. 

In Trump’s July 25 call, according to a memo about the call released by the White House, Trump called Yovanovitch “the woman” and “bad news.” 

In the letter, the former ambassadors say Yovanovitch is a “highly respected” senior diplomat who may have been “singled out for retribution for partisan, political reasons.” They say allowing partisanship to enter diplomacy risks undercutting “U.S. diplomatic efforts and the safety of U.S. personnel worldwide.” 

House Democrats have demanded that Yovanovitch and other U.S. officials named in the whistleblower complaint appear Thursday for a joint deposition with the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees. 

But Pompeo released a letter publicly on Tuesday to House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel pushing back, calling it an attempt to “intimidate" and "bully" them and saying he would “use all means at my disposal to prevent and expose any attempts to intimidate the dedicated professionals whom I am proud to lead.”

Late Tuesday, two congressional committee aides told NBC News that Yovanovitch will indeed sit for a joint deposition – but not until Oct. 11. The aides said that delayed appearance comes with the agreement of both the committees and counsel. 

S.C. poll: Biden leads, retains huge advantage with black voters

A new poll of Democratic voters in South Carolina shows that Joe Biden remains the frontrunner in the early primary state. And the former vice president retains a major advantage with African American Democrats, although Elizabeth Warren bests him among white Democrats.

The poll, conducted by Winthrop University, shows Biden leading with 37 percent support overall, followed by Warren at 17 percent. Bernie Sanders receives 8 percent support, while 7 percent of Democrats back Kamala Harris.  Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker receive 4 and 3 percent, respectively. No other candidate gets more than 2 percent among all voters.

Among African American voters, it’s 46 percent for Biden, 10 percent for Harris, 9 percent for Warren, 8 percent for Sanders, and 4 percent for Booker. Buttigieg, who has struggled for traction with nonwhite Democratic voters, received zero percent support among African American voters.

Among white Democrats, it’s 29 percent for Warren, 22 percent for Biden, and 10 percent for Buttigieg.

The poll is on the list of qualifying surveys for candidates hoping to meet the DNC’s requirements to participate in November’s Democratic debate. Booker’s 3 percent support in the Winthrop poll puts him just one qualifying poll away from making the stage. The deadline for qualifying will be seven days before the date of the November debate. 

The poll was conducted September 21-30, 2019. The margin of error among 463 Democratic registered voters is +/- 4.6 percent.

Sanders to go up on air with first buy of $1.3 million

LOS ANGELES — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is already putting some of the money raised during his $25 million third-quarter to use, with the campaign Tuesday afternoon announcing its first paid TV advertisement of the 2020 cycle.

The $1.3 million ad buy, titled “Fights for us,” will begin hitting the airwaves in Iowa on Thursday and run for two weeks.

The ad focuses on Sanders being what the narrator calls a “fighter” for the working class, and features video from his campaign announcement in February, as well as various campaign stops at Fight for $15 marches and "Medicare for All" rallies.

The campaign says this ad was produced entirely in-house. NBC News confirmed last week that the campaign filmed another, yet to be released, spot during a recent town hall in Des Moines. 

The image of Sanders as a lifelong advocate for workers rights and the rights of the middle class has been a key messaging point for the campaign. And the push has picked up in recent weeks as Sanders tries to distinguish himself from Sen. Warren, who is rising in the polls with similar messaging.

The campaign made the decision to begin skipping some of the recent all-candidate “cattle-call” events to instead attend events that include standing on union picket lines and supporting workers. 

Until now, Sanders hadn't hit the airwaves in any state. So far, billionaire Tom Steyer has been the largest spender in Iowa on television and radio with $5 million. South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has spent $900,000 so far on ads in the state, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden's $688,000 and $562,000 from California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris' campaign, according to spending data from Advertising Analytics. 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., spent $924,000 on television ads in Iowa this cycle. But she dropped out of the race over the summer.

Claudia Tenney joins group of former GOP lawmakers running for revenge in 2020

Former GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney announced a comeback bid Tuesday, an attempt to win back the New York congressional seat she held before losing in 2018. 

Tenney announced her bid Tuesday morning in a video, shared on social media, that centers on the idea of resilience, sharing the story of her trying to raise her child as a single mother. The video doesn't explicitly mention her past bid or President Trump, who loomed large over her 2018 loss. Trump won the district by 15 points in 2016.

If she makes it through the GOP primary, she'll run against Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi, the former state assemblyman who narrowly defeated her in 2018. 

Tenney is far from the only former Republican lawmaker looking to win a federal office in 2020. Here's a look at some of her former colleagues who are trying to do the same thing. 

Karen Handel, R-Ga.

Handel is no stranger to a tough race — she won the pivotal Georgia 2017 special House election that took center-stage as the first major referendum on the Trump administration. 

But while she vanquished Democrat Jon Ossoff (who is now running for Senate) in that race, she lost her seat slightly more than a year later when Democrat Lucy McBath beat her in the 2018 midterms. 

Handel quickly launched her campaign to win back her old seat earlier this year, and has been trying to paint McBath as too liberal for the purple district

David Valadao, R-Calif. 

Valadao jumped back into the fray this past summer with a quest to win back the seat he lost last cycle to Democrat TJ Cox. 

Cox has been one of the top freshman targets for Republicans this cycle who have hammered him for his business record. 

Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Issa is unique in that he didn't lose in 2018 like his other colleagues on this list—he decided to retire instead of running again in a difficult race. Democrats ultimately flipped his seat in the 49th Congressional District, but Issa is seeking a new home: the 50th Congressional District, currently represented by indicted GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter. 

Hunter's fate is uncertain, as he faces charges that he misused his campaign cash, and GOP leaders stripped him of his committee assignments in response to those charges. But Hunter barely beat Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar last November.

Scott Taylor, R-Va.

Taylor's southeastern Virginia seat didn't initially seem like a top candidate to flip in 2018, but when the dust settled, the Republican congressman found himself out of a job, defeated by Democrat Eliane Luria. 

Now out of office, he's set to run against Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in a state that's been drifting toward Democrats in recent years. 

Jason Lewis, R-Minn. 

Lewis is the other member of the class of vanquished Republican congressmen of 2018 seeking to win a new gig in the Senate. After beating Democrat Angie Craig in 2016, Lewis couldn't fend her off again last November. 

He announced his Senate bid this summer against Minnesota Democratic Sen. Tina Smith. 

Sanders releases income inequality tax proposal

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., unveiled an income inequality tax plan Monday, proposing to raise taxes on companies “with exorbitant pay gaps between their executives and workers.” 

This tax comes a week after Sanders released a wealth tax that would tax net worth above $32 million on an increasing scale.

Image: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the Climate Forum at Georgetown University on Sept. 19, 2019.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the Climate Forum at Georgetown University on Sept. 19, 2019.Jose Luis Magana / AP

Sanders’ campaign says this income inequality tax plan will raise an estimated $150 billion over the next decade, and the revenue generated will be used to pay for his plan to eliminate medical debt. 

Sanders’ proposal would impose tax rate increases on companies with CEO-to-median-worker ratios above 50-to-1, meaning if the CEO is being paid 50 times more than the median worker is being paid, taxes would go up. The tax proposal would apply to all private and publicly held corporations with annual revenue of more than $100 million. According to the plan, if the CEO did not receive the largest paycheck in the firm, the ratio will be based on the highest-paid employee.

In the plan, the campaign calls out American companies by name, including Home Depot, American Airlines and  McDonalds, among others. The campaign says if Sanders’ plan had been in effect last year, McDonald’s would have paid up to $110.9 million more in taxes, Walmart would have paid up to $793.8 million more in taxes, JP MorganChase would have paid up to $991.6 million more in taxes, Home Depot would have paid up to $538.2 million more in taxes, and American Airlines would have paid up to $18.8 million more in taxes. 

 The campaign says that if companies increased annual median worker pay to just $60,000 and reduced their CEO compensation to $3 million they would not owe any additional taxes under this new tax plan. 

Tom Steyer's ad spending approaches $20 million

WASHINGTON — Democrat Tom Steyer has now spent nearly $20 million over the TV and radio airwaves — substantially more than any other Democrat running in the 2020 presidential contest, according to ad-spending data from Advertising Analytics.

In total, Steyer has dropped $16.8 million in TV and radio ads, with most of it targeted to the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

And the spending appears to be helping him — at least when it comes to qualifying for the upcoming debates: CNN polls of Nevada and South Carolina released over the weekend showed Steyer reaching or surpassing the 3 percent needed to qualify for November’s Democratic debate.

To participate in November’s debate, candidates must reach at least 3 percent support in four qualifying polls or 5 percent in two early-state polls.

 

Total TV/radio spending as of Sept. 30

Steyer: $16.8 million

Gillibrand: $1.7 million (has ended campaign)

Gabbard: $1.0 million

Buttigieg: $900,000

Biden: $688,000

Delaney: $622,000

Harris: $562,000

Bennet: $365,000

 

Iowa TV/radio spending as of Sept. 30

Steyer: $5.0 million

Gillibrand: $924,000

Buttigieg: $900,000

Biden: $688,000

Harris: $562,000

 

New Hampshire TV/radio spending as of Sept. 30

Steyer: $3.8 million

Gillibrand: $728,000

Gabbard: $229,000

 

Nevada TV/radio spending as of Sept. 30

Steyer: $3.0 million

 

South Carolina TV/radio spending as of Sept. 30

Steyer: $3.8 million

Gabbard: $297,000

SOURCE: Advertising Analytics

Sixth Texas House Republican announces retirement

WASHINGTON — A sixth Republican House member from the state of Texas won’t run for re-election in 2020.

Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and a member of the state’s delegation since 1994, made the announcement in a statement Monday.

“We are reminded, however, that 'for everything there is a season,' and I believe that the time has come for a change,” he said. “Therefore, this is my last term in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Thornberry joins five other Texas GOP colleagues in announcing his retirement. Reps. Pete Olson, Mike Conaway, Will Hurd, Kenny Marchant and Bill Flores have also said they’re calling it quits.

But unlike some of his fellow retirees, Thornberry represents a district that’s very unlikely to be competitive in the next election.

His Panhandle-area district is heavily conservative, voting for both Donald Trump and Mitt Romney with 80 percent of the vote. Thornberry won his last reelection by a similar margin. 

ICYMI: Political stories of the week that didn't include the "I" word

WASHINGTON – The last week in Washington has been filled with information dumps on President Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the whistleblower report and House Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry. With all of that in mind, here are some stories you may have missed that don't include the word "impeachment". 

A federal judge blocked new Trump administration regulations that would have allowed for migrant children to be held indefinitely. The judge ruled that the rule would violate the 1997 Flores agreement sets standards for how and where migrant children are held. 

Image: Migrant families turn themselves to U.S. Border Patrol to seek asylum following an illegal crossing of the Rio Grande in Hidalgo
Migrant families turn themselves to U.S. Border Patrol to seek asylum following an illegal crossing of the Rio Grande in Hidalgo, Texas on Aug. 23, 2019.Loren Elliott / Reuters

Three years after Congress created a federal control board to oversee Puerto Rico's finances, the board filed a plan that would decrease the U.S. territory's debt by 60 percent. If the plan is approved, it would reduce Puerto Rico's annual debt service to under 9 percent – it is currently almost 30 percent.  

Religious-based adoption agencies that contract with the state of Michigan won't have to place children in LGBTQ homes based on a preliminary injunction from a federal judge. The Attorney General of Michigan, Dana Nessel, who argued agencies couldn't discriminate against LGBTQ homes, is the first openly-gay statewide officeholder. 

The Arkansas state government decided to relinquish partial control of the city's schools to be run by a locally-elected school board. The plan was never made available for public comment. Those concerned with the plan say that the part of the schools that will be run by an elected board are the better-performing, majority white areas of the city, while the lesser-performing, majority black and latino parts of the school system will be run by the state or a third party. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) rejected the notion that this would lead to a resegregation of schools. 

Twelve candidates will share the stage at next Democratic debate

WASHINGTON — The October Democratic primary debate will feature all 12 qualifying candidates on one night. 

The debate will be held on Oct. 15 in Westerville, Ohio, and hosted by CNN and The New York Times. The three prior Democratic debates have all limited the size of the stage to 10 candidates. The first two debates were held on two separate nights to accommodate all 20 candidates who qualified for those while the September debate only had 10 candidates who qualified. 

Image: Democratic Debate
From left, democratic presidential candidates Marianne Williamson, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, Eric Swalwell take the stage during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami, Florida.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

The 12 candidates who have already qualified for the October debate are: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, D-Ind., former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Andrew Yang.

Steyer and Gabbard are the only additions to the debate stage. Gabbard appeared at the first two debates but failed to qualify for the third, and this will be Steyer's first time qualifying for the debate. 

All other candidates have until Oct. 1 to qualify for the debate, but it's unlikely any will do so. 

Elizabeth Warren releases plan to combat lobbyists

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has a new plan to tackle corruption — this time focusing on empowering Congress by funding agencies that would lessen reliance on lobbyist knowledge.

Image: Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren speaks during a Town Hall at Keene State College on Sept. 25, 2019 in Keene, N.H.Scott Eisen / Getty Images

Warren claims that Congress has defunded or underfunded many of the services that lawmakers would ordinarily turn to in order to understand complex legislative topics, resulting in lawmakers turning to lobbyists.

“Members of Congress should have the resources they need to make decisions without relying on corporate lobbyists,” Warren wrote. “My anti-corruption plan reinstates and modernizes the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), strengthens congressional support agencies and transitions congressional staffers to competitive salaries so that Congress can act based on the best expertise and information available.“

The Office of Technology Assessment is an office that used to publish reports to help Congress understand complex science and tech topics. The office was dismantled in 1995 by a Republican congressional majority. Warren says the office should be led by a single director and should also expand on what kind of topics the office can write about, “such as preparing for hearings, writing regulatory letters, and weighing in on agency rulemaking.”

In addition, Warren calls for increased funding for other Congressional support agencies like the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Government Accountability Office. Warren says these funding increases will be paid for by “a tax on excessive lobbying.” Warren also calls for increased salaries for congressional staffers in order to better retain staff.

This is yet another piece in Warren’s overall campaign against what she calls corruption in Washington. “These reforms are vital parts of my plan to free our government from the grip of lobbyists — and restore the public’s trust in its government in the process,” Warren wrote.

Warren has also called for the elimination of “lobbying as we know it” and “shutting down the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street.”

Booker: Withholding Ukraine aid for political gain would be 'treasonous'

WASHINGTON — Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called accusations that President Trump withheld aid to Ukraine for political purposes "treasonous," hours after a new report quoted Trump attacking the whistleblower who raised concerns about the president's conversations with the Ukrainian president. 

Speaking from New Hampshire during an appearance on MSNBC, Booker responded to Thursday's testimony from Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire as well as a new report in the New York Times that Trump called the whistleblower "close to a spy" and added: "You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right?"

"It's not surprising that Donald Trump doesn't know the difference between patriotism and treason. If there are any treasonous actions here, it is coming from the White House," he said, before pointing to the allegation that Trump may have linked American aid to Ukraine to the country investigating former Vice President Joe Biden. 

"We as Congress, in a bipartisan fashion, approved that aid. And now we are realizing that this president was withholding that aid, not for national security purposes, in fact, violating national security interests, to pursue his own personal benefit. That's outrageous, and in my opinion, that is treasonous," Booker added. 

Pete Buttigieg’s latest television ad takes aim at Medicare For All

DES MOINES, IA — South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is out with his latest TV ad for his presidential campaign Wednesday, which takes aim at some of his opponents’ support of “Medicare for All.”

Throughout the 30-second spot titled, “Your Choice,” Buttigieg explains how his “Medicare for All Who Want It,” plan would work. Graphics on-screen help the viewer follow along,  pointing out how his plan will, “go about it in a very different way than [his] competitors.”

He ends the video looking directly into the camera, delivering this definitive line, “Now, others say it’s 'Medicare for All,' or nothing. I approve this message to say, the choice should be yours.”

The spot is the candidate's third television ad to go up in Iowa, and the campaign says it will air statewide across broadcast, cable and digital platforms. 

Buttigieg used similar language during the September debate when the conversation turned to Medicare for All. “I trust the American people to make the right choice for them. Why don't you?,” Buttigieg said on stage, directing his comments at Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who wrote the primary 'Medicare for All' bill.

This sentiment is echoed by Buttigieg on the campaign trail, who repeatedly touted his health care plan during his recent four-day bus tour through Iowa. 

Buttigieg officially debuted his plan last week, which he says would allow millions of Americans to opt into a public insurance plan. That competition, he argues, would force private insurers to compete, driving costs down or create an organic shift of Americans toward the new public option. Buttigieg's campaign estimates the plan would cost $1.5 trillion over the next decade. 

This might be the first time he's making this argument on television, but Buttigieg's Facebook ads have been more direct in calling out Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., by name for their support for 'Medicare for All.' 

“Medicare for All Who Want It will create a public alternative, but unlike the Sanders-Warren vision it doesn’t dictate it to the American people and risk further polarizing them," one ad reads.

Trump campaign launches rapid reaction to impeachment push

WASHINGTON — Within hours of the news that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was formally launching an impeachment inquiry Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s campaign countered with a multifaceted rapid response strategy

Some of it was as simple as blasting fundraising emails, referencing the new “Official Impeachment Defense Task Force.” Other tactics included a slickly-produced video of Democrats defending their “sole focus” of “fighting Trump” that was long in the making.

 

“We’ve had that ready for weeks in case the Democrats were that dumb. And they were,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told NBC News.

About thirty minutes after Pelosi made her announcement, the campaign sent a text from the president that read: “Nancy just called for Impeachment. WITCH HUNT! I need you on my Impeachment Defense Team ALL GIFTS 2X-MATCHED for 1 HOUR. Donate NOW.”

Apart from that, the re-elect effort released multiple reaction statements, fired off dozens of coordinated tweets from senior aides’ accounts and retweeted top surrogates, all decrying the move by House Democrats.

  

The campaign is used to this type of give and take. Some of its best fundraising periods were direct responses to the release of the redacted Mueller report and corresponding testimony on Capitol Hill

Officials said this kind of messaging will sharpen in the coming months and these counterpunches are simply a preview of the Trump campaign approach as 2020 gets into full swing.

13 House Democrats in Trump districts support some action on Trump impeachment

WASHINGTON — Of the 31 Democratic members who hold seats won by Trump in 2016, we now know that 13 are calling for some movement on impeachment, bringing NBC’s count to nearly 180 House Democrats who favor some action regarding impeachment as of 4:30 p.m. ET.

Chris Pappas (NH-1): Trump won district by 2 percent.

Lauren Underwood (IL-14): Trump won district by 4 percent.

Angie Craig (MN-2): Trump won district by 1 percent.

Elaine Luria (VA-2): Trump won district by 3 percent.

Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11): Trump won district by 1 percent.

Elissa Slotkin (MI-8): Trump won district by 6 percent.

Abigail Spanberger (VA-7): Trump won district by 6 percent.

Haley Stevens (MI-11): Trump won district by 4 percent.

Antonio Delgado (NY-19): Trump won district by 6 percent.

Susie Lee (NV-3): Trump won district by 1 percent.

Andy Kim (NJ-3): Trump won district by 6 percent.

Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18): Trump won district by 2 percent.

Cheri Bustos (IL-17): Trump won district by 1 percent.

N.H. poll: Warren holds slim lead, Gabbard qualifies for October Democratic debate

WASHINGTON — A new poll out Tuesday shows Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., with a narrow lead in the New Hampshire primary and also appears to have booked Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, a spot in October's Democratic presidential debate. 

Gabbard hit two percent support in the new Monmouth University poll of New Hampshire, giving her four qualifying polls of at least 2 percent. That same poll also found Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren narrowly ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden, 27 percent to 25 percent. Warren's lead is within the poll's 4.9 percent margin of error. 

Democratic candidates need to hit at least 2 percent in four qualifying polls and raise money from 130,000 unique donors in order to qualify for the October event. So while the Democratic National Committee won't certify the official slate of candidates until next week, an NBC News analysis shows Gabbard is poised to join the stage.

The debate will be on Oct. 15 in Westerville, Ohio. It’s possible that the DNC will divide the field and hold a second debate the following day, but the party doesn’t comment until it has officially certified the participants.

Those who also appear to have qualified are: Former Vice President Joe Biden; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders; California Sen. Kamala Harris; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; former Housing Secretary Julián Castro; former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke; entrepreneur Andrew Yang; and billionaire Tom Steyer.

Both Steyer and Gabbard were not on September's debate stage, but have since qualified. 

The DNC announced Wednesday it was raising the bar for its November debate, a move that could cull the debate stage once again. 

'Sometimes I am misread': On bus tour, Buttigieg looks to pull back the curtain

ELKADER, Iowa — Forty-one hours into his first bus tour through Northeastern Iowa, Pete Buttigieg had done very little complaining. 

After five town halls and another nine or so hours of questioning by the press, the South Bend mayor seemed more composed than when he’d started. But when a reporter asked whether voters view him as emotionally distant, it hit a nerve. 

“Sometimes I am misread as being bloodless,”Buttigieg said, sitting back in an armchair as his bus rolled toward Elkader, Iowa, population 1,273. 

He said it was irritating that the media acts as if his early work as a consultant defined his personality — “or like that I have a technocratic soul,” Buttigieg said. “I do not have a technocratic soul.” 

Image: Pete Buttigieg, South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful, takes a question from the press on his campaign bus during a four day tour of Iowa
Pete Buttigieg, South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful, takes a question from the press on his campaign bus during a four day tour of Iowa on Sept. 23, 2019.Elijah Nouvelage / Reuters

Then he laid out his theory of leadership in terms that were, well, technical. 

“If there’s a way to deal with a problem that can make everybody better off while making nobody worse off, then by definition it should be done, and it doesn’t really take a lot of courage or judgment,” Buttigieg said. “That’s the part of a politician’s job that should be automated.” 

“I think you earn your paycheck in politics dealing with moral issues, not technical issues,” he added. “What do you do when there’s winners or losers? What do you do when one of our values collides with another? That’s why we have human beings.” 

If Buttigieg senses a disconnect in how he’s publicly perceived, it may explain why he decided to rent a luxury bus, load it full of about a dozen reporters, liquor and candy, and drive around Iowa for four days — all on the record. 

Despite massive fundraising and crowds that regularly dwarf those of his rivals, Buttigieg is struggling to break into the top tier in the Democratic race, a triumvirate comprising Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, with Buttigieg a distant fourth in most polls. The most recent survey in Iowa saw his support drop five points, to just 9 percent. 

More than four months still separate the candidates from the first contest, the Iowa caucuses. But ultimately, if Buttigieg cannot convert the clear enthusiasm from rally-goers and donors into hard support from voters, it becomes the existential dilemma of his campaign. 

So Buttigieg is returning to some of the guerrilla-style campaign tactics that transformed him from the unknown mayor of a midsize Indiana town into a household name, a fundraising phenomenon and a history-maker in the form of America’s first major openly gay presidential candidate. 

It’s “radical transparency,” as Buttigieg’s media adviser Lis Smith calls it: a four-day rolling press conference, harkening back to the late Sen. John McCain’s “Straight Talk Express.” 

Buttigieg’s advisers argue that by putting himself at the mercy of endless inquisition, he proves not only agility but also the authenticity of someone who speaks their mind so faithfully that they can’t be pushed off-message.  

“Something absurd could happen in the next 90 seconds and you could ask me about it, and you’ll see how I think in real time,” Buttigieg said during a particularly long stretch on the bus. 

In reality, it’s also a way to use the novelty of seeing a politician in unusual circumstances to generate massive amounts of media attention. The strategy is not unlike how Buttigieg propelled himself into the political conversation earlier this year by saying yes to just about every interview request — not just cable news and magazine profiles but also less obvious, potentially riskier choices like late-night talk shows, niche websites and TMZ. 

“Just out of curiosity, who’s responsible for this?” Buttigieg said with a playful grin as he boarded the bus picked up a near-empty bottle of Bulleit bourbon that had been full when the bus pulled in to Waterloo the night before. 

Yet if the hope was that the cozy intimacy of a bus would lead to deeper conversations and more intimate insights into the candidate, it seemed tempered by the candidate’s tendency to operate at the same measured tempo regardless of the venue.

As the bus ambled through Newton the evening Buttigieg’s tour started, there was all the polite awkwardness of a first date. Reporters lobbed policy questions they already knew the answers to, groping for more lighthearted topics like how many of his signature white shirts he’d brought on the trip (four, plus a single pair of jeans) and what Buttigieg would be doing if not for politics (“happily be living as a literary critic at a university”).

By day two, the obvious topics had been covered and the conversation descended into the more mundane: Buttigieg’s favorite road trip snacks, exercise regimen on the road, least favorite part about the campaign trail (“You miss home”). By the third day, Smith, his communications guru, seemed agitated.

“Can I just say something, guys? We’re all here on the bus. Ask whatever you want. Like, this works both ways,” Smith said. “If you guys keep asking the same questions over and over again, you’re going to get boring answers.”

As the blue-and-gold-wrapped bus rolled out of Waterloo on Monday, Buttigieg seemed to settle into a looser, more edifying style of reflection about himself and the state of the race. He weighed in on why Warren is gaining traction — “because she’s really good” — and sharpened his argument against Biden, without mentioning him by name.

“The part about the electability debate that I'm really trying to turn on its head is the idea that you need the most stable, familiar face to be elected,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t think we’d be here if people liked what they were getting out to the establishment, which means that sending in the establishment is a terrible way to try to win the election.”

Buttigieg has often cited former Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod’s theory that holds that voters tend to seek the opposite of their current president — the “remedy,” not the “replica.”

Pete Buttigieg steps off on his campaign bus during a four day tour of Iowa on Sept. 23, 2019.
Pete Buttigieg steps off on his campaign bus during a four day tour of Iowa on Sept. 23, 2019.Josh Lederman / NBC News

As he fielded question after question on Iowa’s highways, the unanswerable one seemed to be whether that “opposites” theory still holds true in the era of President Trump: Do voters want a steady, “safe choice” as a counterweight to today’s chaos, or did Trump’s election prove Americans eager for a disruptor who will channel their frustrations?

“We’re so used to candidates that appeal to emotional stuff. He gave a more thoughtful presentation today,” said Jim Klosterboer, a 70-year-old from McGregor, after seeing Buttigieg speak for the first time in nearby Elkader. “I think it’s slow building because the emotional stuff isn’t there.”

“The charisma-type stuff,” chimed in his friend, Jay Moser, a retired pharmacist.

Klosterboer’s wife, Laurie, 67, disagreed.

“Well, he’s got charisma, personality,” the retired teacher said. “And in the White House, you want thoughtful intelligence, experience.”

NBC News' Charlie Gile contributed. 

Booker campaign raises more than $500,000 since Saturday as it seeks to stay afloat in Dem primary

WASHINGTON — New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker's Democratic presidential campaign has raised more than a half-million dollars since its Saturday morning plea for donors to help the campaign hit its fundraising goal by the end of the month or drop out. 

The Booker campaign told supporters, staff and reporters on Saturday that it needed to raise $1.7 million more by the end of the month, the third fundraising quarter of 2019, in order to stay afloat. 

Booker addressed that ultimatum on Monday's "Morning Joe," revealing that Saturday and Sunday have been "the two best fundraising days of our campaign so far." 

"We got in this race not for an exercise in ego or a vanity project, but we got in to win," he said. 

"We have built a campaign to win but we want to be very honest with people — the fourth quarter is where you grow, and if we don't have the money to grow, we are not going to be able to stay competitive." 

— Vaughn Hillyard contributed. 

NBC/WSJ poll: Voters divided over environmental, energy proposals

As world leaders gather in New York City for a special United Nations summit on climate change, American voters are divided over key proposals for energy and environmental policy, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows.

The poll, released over the weekend, found that about half of voters — 52 percent — back a proposal to shift the United States to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, including stopping the use of coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power.

And 45 percent want to ban hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.

Those two proposals, which are among those being backed by environmental activists, have majority support among Democrats. About eight-in-ten Democratic primary voters — 81 percent — back a total move to renewable energy, while 58 percent support a fracking ban.

But both proposals also face strong opposition from Republicans. Three-quarters of Republicans say they oppose a shift away from conventional energy sources, with 58 percent saying they strongly oppose the move.

Opposition to a fracking ban is slightly more muted for GOP voters, although a majority — 55 percent — oppose it. Thirty-five percent of Republicans say they strongly oppose such a ban.

Republicans are far more enthusiastic about drilling for oil off the coast of the United States. That garners the support of 81 percent of GOP voters  and about half — 51 percent — of voters overall. Just 24 percent of Democratic primary voters, however, agree.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Sept. 13-16. The margin of error for all adults is +/- 3.27 percentage points.

Democratic candidates stump at the Iowa Steak Fry – Part 2

DES MOINES, IA – Seventeen Democratic presidential candidates took the stage at the Iowa Steak Fry on Saturday to address the crowd of potential caucus-goers. Here are some highlights from the second half of those candidates: 

Michael Bennet: Bennet played up his moderate side during his time at the steak fry podium when he reminded the crowd that “We won the House back in 2018 with Democrats running on a public option not Medicare for All,” and in 2020, “We need to nominate somebody who has run tough races as I have in Colorado who says the same thing in the primary as they say in the general election.”

Julián Castro: Paging House Democrats, Castro opened his stump speech with a simple call, “It is time for you to do your job and impeach Donald Trump. How many crimes does this president have to commit before Congress will act and impeach him?”

Tulsi Gabbard: Gabbard addressed President Trump's decision to deploy troops to Saudi Arabia and said that she is running for president to end these “regime change wars.” She called the reality of never-ending wars “insanity.”

Tom Steyer: Tom Steyer spearheaded his presidential campaign with his organization "Need to Impeach", and he continued that message in Iowa: "You're never gonna see someone from this stage conspire with the president of Ukraine to use American tax dollars for his political purposes - I can promise you that. That's why I started Need To Impeach two years ago - cause I knew he was a criminal." 

Joe Sestak: Sestak introduced himself to the crowd in Iowa and called out President Trump for dodging the draft during the  Vietnam War, while touting his own Navy service. 

Marianne Williamson: By the time Williamson took the microphone, the crowd had thinned at the steak fry but she stuck to her normal campaign speech about only being able to change the "era of political theatre" by creating a new phenomenon. 

Steve Bullock: Steve Bullock stuck to his campaign stump focusing on this next election being the "most important" in "our lifetimes" and that Democrats need to pick up seats in some areas that they lost "along the way." Of course, that did not lead to a Senate candidacy announcement. 

Tim Ryan: When Tim Ryan grabbed the microphone, the crowd had thinned as it started to pour. But Ryan told the remaining crowd that, "we don't stop playing football" when it rains, so he wouldn't stop politicking either. Ryan told the remaining crowd that he understands rural America and he will "rebuild" small towns.  

Democratic candidates stump at the Iowa Steak Fry – Part 1

DES MOINES, IA – Seventeen Democratic presidential candidates took the stage at the Iowa Steak Fry on Saturday to address the crowd of potential caucus-goers. Here are some highlights from the first half of those candidates: 

Beto O’Rourke: O’Rourke capitalized on his “hell yes” comments regarding mandatory buybacks for certain assault weapons: “People will ask us, they'll say, 'Hey Beto, aren't you afraid that you've gone too far, that you really pissed off the NRA this time?', I'm not afraid of that. No, I'm not afraid of that. I would be afraid if I were a school teacher in a kindergarten classroom and those kids for whom I'd already sacrificed so much were up against a gunman with an AR-15 because we didn't have the courage to stop him while we still had time.”

Kamala Harris: Harris gave an abbreviated version of her stump speech, plugging the joke that she’s going to move to Iowa. She focused on her message of “prosecuting the case of four more years with Donald Trump.” The crowd briefly echoed her, chanting “Dude’s gotta go.”

Cory Booker: Booker did not mention his fundraising needs while at the microphone, and rather stuck to talking about bringing people together: “We will win this election not by dividing democrats but have people who unite us and bring us together.”

Elizabeth Warren: Warren, who was one of the first presidential candidates to call for the impeachment of President Trump began her stump speech with seconding that call: “He has solicited another foreign government to attack our election system, it is time for us to call out this illegal behavior and start impeachment proceedings right now.”

Bernie Sanders: Sanders stuck to his stump speech at the steak fry and discussed combatting white nationalism “in all of its ugly faults.” Per the NBC team, Sanders’ voice seemed to be fading and he has 12 events this week.

Andrew Yang: While Yang waited until about halfway through his speech to discuss his freedom dividend plan, Yang called on Iowans to “solve the biggest problem of all time” – Donald Trump. While the crowd seemed a bit unfamiliar with Yang, the Yang campaign told NBC he will be making more frequent trips to Iowa.

Joe Biden: Biden dug in on a line he made at the last Democratic debate that he’s “with Barack” when it comes to health care. During his time at the microphone Biden said, “I'm opposed to anybody who wants to take down Obamacare,” and, “we have to finish the job and we can do it because the American public now understands what they had and were given by Obamacare as Trump tries to take it away.”

Pete Buttigieg: Buttigieg had a hearty reaction from the crowd with continued cheers throughout his speech, and he took a pretty direct aim at former Vice President Joe Biden’s line that President Trump could be an “aberration.” Buttigieg said, “We are not going to be able to replace this president if we think he's just a blip. Just an aberration. It's going to take more than that. We want to win and deserve to win we can't water down our values.”

Amy Klobuchar: The Iowa Steak Fry comes at the end of Klobuchar’s “Blue Wall Tour” and she hit on the need to win back blue wall states during her stump: “I went to Wisconsin, I met with our farmers and then I went to Iowa and all that way from Pennsylvania to Iowa in 2020, my friends, we are going build a blue wall and we are going to make – we are going to make Donald Trump pay for it.” 

 

 

 

2020 Democrats make big entrances at the Iowa Steak Fry

WASHINGTON – Before the Democratic presidential candidates take the stage at the Iowa Steak Fry and speak with potential caucus-goers, they need to make an entrance. 

The NBC team in Des Moines watched as the candidates marched into the steak fry with waves of supporters, a mariachi band and a drum line. Here's a look at how some of the candidates made their appearance: 

Julián Castro

Amy Klobuchar 

Beto O'Rourke 

Pete Buttigieg 

Cory Booker 

Bernie Sanders releases new plan to eliminate medical debt

DES MOINES, IA – Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Saturday released his plan to eliminate $81 billion in past-due medical debt and remove and exclude future medical debt from credit reports. 

Under the Sanders plan a public credit registry would be created to replace for-profit credit reporting agencies like Equifax and TransUnion. 

Image: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, speaks at the New Hampshire State Democratic Party Convention in Manchester on Sept. 7, 2019.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, speaks at the New Hampshire State Democratic Party Convention in Manchester on Sept. 7, 2019.Robert F. Bukaty / AP file

The campaign first previewed the plan on Aug. 30 at a town hall in South Carolina when he was asked about what plan he would offer to people dealing with medical debt. At the time Sanders said he was looking at legislation to offer that would eliminate such debt.

Sanders is holding a medical debt and health care bankruptcy town hall tomorrow in Iowa where he's expected to talk about the new plan. 

Some specifics of the plan are: 

  • Eliminate $81 billion in past-due medical debt. Under this plan, the campaign says the federal government will negotiate and pay off past-due medical bills in collections that have been reported to credit agencies.
  • End what the campaign calls “abusive and harassing” debt collection practices, by:
    • Prohibiting the collection of debt beyond statute of limitations
    • Limiting the number of times collectors can attempt to get in contact with individuals regardless of number or about of past-due bills
    • Limit what can be seized/garnished in collection, to ensure Americans do not lose homes, jobs or primary vehicles during this process.
  • Under a Sanders campaign, the IRS would be asked to review “billing and collection practices” of non-profit hospitals to ensure they are following charitable care standards to align with their non-profit tax status
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders also wants to create “public credit registry.” The campaign says this will “end racial biases in credit scores,” and ensure that those with medical debt are not penalized for getting sick 
    • This would allow Americans to receive credit score for free.
    • This would also end the use of credit checks for rental housing, employment and insurance. 
  • All medical debt would be removed and excluded from existing and future credit reports 

DNC offers conditional approval for Iowa’s plan to satellite caucus

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Democratic National Convention Rules and Bylaws Committee announced Friday that it has granted conditional approval for the Iowa Democratic Party’s plan to host a satellite caucus in 2020.

This comes exactly two weeks after, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee struck down the state Democratic Party's proposal to host a “virtual caucus,” due to security concerns.

While presenting the new plan on a conference call, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price acknowledged that setback, but focused on the future.

Voters listen to instructions during a Democratic party caucus in Nevada, Iowa on Feb. 1, 2016.
Voters listen to instructions during a Democratic party caucus in Nevada, Iowa on Feb. 1, 2016.Patrick Semansky / AP file

“I know these last few weeks have been filled with some uncertainty over our process,” he said. “With your approval, we will put an end to that, and allow for all of us, the IDP, the campaigns, and most importantly our voters to get back to the task at hand.”

A satellite caucus, which was was first offered in 2016, allows people to caucus in other locations beyond designated precincts. For example, workers on the third shift at a factory or seniors at a nursing home could gather in those locations to caucus. In addition, Iowa caucus-goers living outside the state will have the option to satellite caucus.

Much like in a traditional precinct caucus, each satellite location will have a trained captain who’s charged with overseeing the room, managing volunteers and reporting the results.

Each satellite site will be considered its own precinct and all the satellite “precincts” within a given congressional district will be counted at one county. Congressional districts will receive  an additional percentage of delegates based on the number of people who “satellite” caucus.

According to the plan, Democrats in Iowa would have less than two months to apply to satellite caucus by the Nov. 18 deadline. Price promises a “robust education effort” in October to inform voters of this option, which includes hiring additional staff to focus on outreach and accessibility. 

Concerns have been raised around legal protections for workers looking to satellite caucus while at work, but Price said an accessibility organizer will work with people in that situation to determine how best to proceed.

While these plans were born out of a new DNC requirement aimed at making caucusing easier following the 2016 Democratic primary, it remains to be seen how many people will actually take advantage of this option. According to the Des Moines Register, in 2016 only four sites participated in the satellite caucus, a disparaging number considering the state has more than 1,600 traditional precincts.

Nonetheless, Price says that he’s confident this plan will increase participation, “I am confident that our 2020 caucuses will be the most successful in our state’s history.”

 

Black progressives condemn 'racist' attacks on Working Family Party leaders after Warren endorsement

More than 100 black progressive leaders penned a letter Thursday condemning "hateful, violent and racist threats" levied by self-described supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders at the minority leadership of the Working Families Party, a campaign of harassment that began after the party endorsed his progressive rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this week.

"These incredible leaders who led an organization to take a risk by lifting up the leadership of Black, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander and white communities in coalescing around a candidate with enough time to engage their communities deeply ahead of the 2020 election, are being threatened on a daily basis, by self-identified Sanders supporters, with hateful, violent and racist threats," said the letter, which was obtained by NBC News. 

"'Uncle Tom.' 'Slave.' 'C***.' These kinds of threats have no place in our movements, and are reminiscent of the threats Black people would receive when daring to vote even though the white supremacists would try and discourage Black people from doing so," the letter continued. 

Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, one of the letter’s signatories, also penned a Medium blog post condemning the attacks, saying, "It's agonizing, it’s painful, it's demoralizing.”

Splinter first reported the story. 

Earlier this week, the Working Families Party, a minor political party, endorsed Warren over Sanders after a three-month endorsement process in which Warren snagged 61 percent of the vote to Sanders’s 36 percent. The party previously endorsed Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary. 

The party’s national director, Maurice Mitchell, the first black man to hold the post, said in a statement announcing the endorsement that Warren “offers hope to millions of working people.” 

The leaders who wrote the letter said Mitchell and Nelini Stamp, also a black Working Families Party leader, have received a deluge of threats since then. The Working Families Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mitchell told The Hill on Friday that the threats he, Stamp and others received were “some of the most violent, disgusting, racist and sexist attacks.” 

In a tweet on Thursday, Sanders condemned the attacks against the Working Families Party leaders.

“This campaign condemns racist bullying and harassment of any kind, in any space. We are building a multiracial movement for justice — that’s how we win the White House.”

Sanders struggled with black voters during the 2016 Democratic primary against Clinton. In 2020, former vice president Joe Biden is leading among African American Democratic primary voters and Warren is doing well with liberal and white Democrats, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll

For Democratic presidential field, timing has been almost everything

WASHINGTON — Timing has been almost everything in the 2020 Democratic presidential race — at least when it comes to the candidates who’ve made the debate and those forced to end their candidates.

On Friday morning, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ended his presidential campaign, just four months after he started it on May 16.

And get this: Among the six Democratic presidential candidates who’ve exited the race — de Blasio, Seth Moulton, Eric Swalwell, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee and Kirsten Gillibrand — five announced their bids after February (after Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders were already in the contest).

Image: Democratic Debate
From left, democratic presidential candidates Marianne Williamson, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, Eric Swalwell take the stage during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami, Florida.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

The one exception is Gillibrand, who announced her exploratory committee (and thus started raising money) on Jan. 15, but ended her candidacy on Aug. 28.

By contrast, eight of the 10 candidates who qualified for September’s debate in Houston announced before March 1, giving them more time to raise money and boost their name identification, given the money and polling requirements to make the debate.

The two Democrats who announced after March 1 but still made September’s debate stage: Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke.

  • Tom Steyer (announced July 9)
  • Former Rep. Joe Sestak (announced June 23)
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (announced May 16) Exited on Sept. 20 
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (announced May 14) 
  • Sen. Michael Bennet (announced May 2)
  • Former VP Joe Biden (announced April 25) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Rep. Seth Moulton (announced April 22) Exited on Aug. 23
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell (announced April 8) Exited on July 8 
  • Rep. Tim Ryan (announced April 4)
  • Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke (announced March 14) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (announced March 4) Exited on Aug. 15 
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (announced March 1) Exited on Aug. 21
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (announced Feb. 9) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (announced Feb. 10) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Marianne Williamson (filed candidacy on Feb. 5)
  • Sen. Cory Booker (announced Feb. 1) Made Sept. Debate 
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (formed exploratory committee Jan. 23, announced April 14) Made Sept. Debate
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (announced Jan. 21) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (formed exploratory committee Jan. 23, announced March 17) Exited on Aug. 28
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (announced Jan. 11)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (formed exploratory committee Dec. 31, announced Feb. 9) Made Sept. Debate
  • Former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julián Castro (formed exploratory committee Dec. 12, announced Jan. 12) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Andrew Yang (filed candidacy Nov. 6, 2017) Made Sept. Debate 
  • Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney (announced presidential bid back on July 28, 2017!!!!) 

Congress holds first DC statehood hearing in 25 years

WASHINGTON – Lawmakers held the first congressional hearing on DC statehood in 25 years Thursday, as advocates hope to reinvigorate the decades-long push to give the city’s residents full representation in Congress.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s non-voting delegate to Congress, has again led the charge, introducing a new statehood bill in January and amassing a record 220 cosponsors in the House.

Image: Eleanor Holmes Norton
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., speaks during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on statehood for the District of Columbia on Sept. 19, 2019.Jacquelyn Martin / AP

If passed, the bill would admit the “State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth” — a territory that would exclude an enclave of monuments and federal buildings. District voters would elect three voting members of Congress, two Senators and one House member, for the first time in U.S. history.

The legislation faces staunch opposition from Republicans, who call it unconstitutional. GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, said at Thursday’s hearing that the move was “not what the Founding Fathers intended.”

And it remains a non-starter in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has derided it as “full bore socialism.”

Still, advocates say the issue is getting more high-profile national attention than ever before, even beyond Thursday’s hearing.

All current 2020 Democratic candidates support the idea of D.C. statehood. And a new national advocacy group, 51for51, has been sending young advocates to early primary states to press presidential hopefuls on the issue. Norton confirmed Thursday that she expects a vote in the House on the statehood issue for the first time since 1993.

Many Democratic backers of the legislation have framed the debate in terms of the disenfranchisement of black voters in a city where about half of residents are African-American.

At the hearing, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez said, “The issue of D.C. statehood is rooted in a different evil in our history, which is the history of slavery.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also framed D.C.’s lack of representation as part of a broader conversation about voting rights and disenfranchisement in the U.S.

Despite the looming stonewall in the Senate, advocates say they’re prepared to fight beyond merely a debate in the lower chamber.

Stasha Rhodes, the campaign manager of 51for51, a national advocacy group, said that the group’s goal will require not only more national awareness but a structural reform of the rule requiring 60 votes to pass most bills through the Senate.

“We want [the bill] to pass the House, but we also want success in the Senate,” Rhodes said. And the only way to get success in the Senate is to circumvent the filibuster and get 51 votes.”

Trio of Senate candidates stare down history as they look to rebound from high-profile House losses

WASHINGTON — In early 2017, still reeling from the election of Donald Trump and facing Republican dominance on Capitol Hill, Democrats across the country turned their lonely eyes to a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker from the Atlanta suburbs named Jon Ossoff. 

Ossoff was running for Congress in a special election in a traditionally Republican district, but Democrats were hopeful that a growing suburban backlash against the president could lead to an upset. Ossoff’s candidacy became a liberal cause célèbre, but despite raising a record $31 million, he lost the election by 3 percent.

After passing on another House run in 2018, Ossoff is now aiming higher, challenging incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue in 2020.

Image: Democratic Congressional Candidate In Georgia's Special Election Jon Ossoff Campaigns In Georgia
TUCKER, GA - JUNE 20: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff speaks with volunteers and supporters in a campaign office on Election Day for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 20, 2017 in Tucker, Georgia. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Ossoff is the third high-profile House loser from the 2018 cycle to pivot to the Senate. MJ Hegar, whose viral ad highlighting her military service helped her raise $5 million, lost a narrow race to incumbent Rep. John Carter in Texas’s 31st District and is now running against Sen. John Cornyn. And Amy McGrath, a former Marine pilot who also raised millions from a viral ad campaign during her unsuccessful campaign in Kentucky’s 6th District, is now challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

All three — despite their losses — became stars of the midterms by taking once-solid-red districts to nail-biting finishes.

Now they’re looking to use that star power to accomplish something few have done in the past 40 years: parlay a losing House bid into a winning Senate one.

History is not on their side, and the political odds appear to be long, too. All three candidates are running in states Trump won handily in 2016.

But as Dave Wasserman, House Editor for The Cook Political Report and an NBC contributor, notes, “The route to Congress is changing quite rapidly, and voters are looking for nonpoliticians at a higher rate than ever.”

Since 1978, 246 people have won a Senate seat for first time (Dan Coats, Frank Lautenberg, Kent Conrad, and Slade Gorton were all elected as “freshmen” twice during this period). Of those, 111 were already members of the House of Representatives; another 30 were state governors. 

According to an NBC News analysis, only nine were able to do what Ossoff, Hegar, and McGrath are attempting. And none have done it as quickly – just one election cycle after a House loss.

Of the nine, John Kerry, D-Mass., Joe Lieberman , then a Democrat from Connecticut, Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., and Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, attained statewide or nationally prominent posts after their initial losses, providing springboards for eventual Senate runs.

Only five people since 1978 have lost a House race and then won a Senate race without holding a statewide elected office or national post in the interim. Three of them, Republicans John East of North Carolina, Mack Mattingly of Georgia and Frank Murkowski of Alaska won their Senate races in the Republican wave year of 1980 after losing House elections in the 60s and 70s.

Peter Fitzgerald, an Illinois State Senator, lost a Republican House primary in 1994, but in 1998 he defeated incumbent Senator Carol Moseley Braun. Fitzgerald served just one term in the US Senate before retiring.

The man who replaced him is the fifth of these cases; also an Illinois state senator at the time. He suffered a bruising House primary defeat in 2000 and returned to the state legislature before a successful U.S. Senate run four years later.

His name was Barack Obama.

It remains to be seen if Ossoff, Hegar, or McGrath can replicate Fitzgerald’s success, let alone Obama’s. All three have nationwide donor lists, broad name recognition, and substantial organization from their previous runs.

But the three Democrats face daunting odds attempting to unseat Republican incumbents in red states, especially during a presidential election year.

The three, Wasserman notes, “are betting big, and it’s too early to say whether 2020 as favorable for Democrats as 2018. They ran in a pretty good year and lost.”

And if they fall short again?

“If you lose two races in two years,” Wasserman says, “it’s a sign you should probably take some time off before reentering the political area.”

Joe Biden picks up three Congressional endorsements

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden picked up three congressional endorsements for his presidential campaign today from Reps. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., and Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.  Biden now has 16 endorsements from members of the House of Representatives, which is the same amount as Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. 

Image: Joe Biden speaks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention in Manchester on Sept. 7, 2019.
Joe Biden speaks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention in Manchester on Sept. 7, 2019.Gretchen Ertl / Reuters file

Butterfield and Cleaver's endorsements, both former chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus, come days after the latest NBC News/WSJ poll showed Biden has a 30-point plus lead among African American Democratic primary voters. Biden's polling at 49 percent in that group, while the next highest-polling candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., sits at 13 percent. While Biden's been criticized on his civil rights record, Butterfield noted Biden's commitment to civil rights in his endorsement.

"Civil rights brought Joe Biden into the fight, and I know he’ll continue that fight – the fight for equality and the opportunity for economic success. That’s why I proudly endorse Joe Biden for President of the United States," Butterfield said. 

Crist served as governor of Florida as a Republican but switched his party registration to Independent before leaving office. He now serves as a Democratic congressman whose district went for President Trump in 2016, but previously supported President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. 

All three Congressmen expressed Biden’s experienced leadership in bringing consensus on numerous issues as a reason why they’re endorsing him. 

The Biden camp's endorsement release highlighted that these three endorsements followed Rep. Vincente González, D-Texas, flipping his endorsement from former HUD Secretary Julián Castro to Biden after the last Democratic debate.

Harris campaign vows "strong top three" Iowa finish, announces doubling of Iowa staff

WASHINGTON — Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign announced on Thursday a doubling of staff in Iowa and a commitment that the candidate would spend “about half of October” in the state to ensure the California senator finishes in the top-three on caucus night next February.

Image: Presidential Candidates Attend New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention at the SNHU Arena on Sept. 7, 2019 in Manchester, N.H.Scott Eisen / Getty Images

“We want to make sure that we have a strong top-three finish,” said Juan Rodriguez, Harris’ campaign manager, on a call with reporters on Thursday morning. “I think that will kind of continue to give us a slingshot to go into that early primary state calendar and then make sure that we’re also competitive heading into Super Tuesday.”

A new NBC/WSJ national poll of Democratic voters released this week showed the California senator slumping to fifth place with just 5 percent of voter support —down 8 points from July.  

Rodriguez said the campaign will double its number of Iowa organizers to 110, increasing her total staff to 131 in the Hawkeye State, while also opening up 10 additional field offices.

After a noticeably quiet summer on the campaign trail, Harris’ team said the candidate will visit the state every week in October. The California senator focused much of her summer on holding campaign fundraisers, a move her campaign defended on the call. 

“I feel really good about what we’ve been able to do in decisions about how we’ve built up this campaign to really kick it into high gear in the fourth quarter,” Rodriguez said.

Lily Adams, Harris’ communications director, noted on the call that success in the Iowa caucus on February 3 is “incredibly important to demonstrating electability and viability going forward.”

“It’s important that we make that commitment,” Adams said. She noted the need for the campaign to “demonstrate to Iowa that we’re going to put in the work.”

She asserted that Harris will visit South Carolina “multiple times” in October as well and that the “emphasis on Iowa” does not mean the campaign is pulling back resources from the other early states. 

Adams acknowledged that the campaign expects to see “bouncy polls ahead” but noted that the polling support for candidates in the final months ahead of the caucus has historically fluctuated, pointing to polling figures leading up to the 2004, 2008 and 2016 Democratic caucuses.

“We certainly saw a sugar high after that first debate,” she said, continuing: “I don’t think any of us thought we were going to bounce up and stay there for the rest of our lives.”

When asked by reporters on the call about the candidate’s messaging strategy in the final four months before Iowa, the Harris campaign said the senator will continue to focus her ire on the policies of President Trump and contrast them with policy objectives that are intended to appeal to a broad swath of the electorate. 

The senator, however, scaled back her criticisms of the party’s frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, in the September debate after taking particular aim during the first debate over his past statements on busing and school segregation. Adams said that Harris will “respectfully” draw contrasts in the future with the rest of the field where needed.

“You’ve got to define what you’re for and against vis a vis the other candidates you’re seeing in this race,” Adams said. “And I think she’s going to respectfully do that.”

Buttigieg unveils health plan, calls it 'glide path' to Medicare for All

WASHINGTON — Democrat Pete Buttigieg is unveiling his long-awaited health care plan that aims to move millions of Americans into government-run health care without imposing it on all Americans all at once — a middle ground that Buttigieg hopes will draw a clear contrast with the "Medicare for All" approach. 

The South Bend, Ind. mayor and presidential candidate described his plan as a "glide path to Medicare for All" in an interview with NBC News. 

Image: Pete Buttigieg
Democratic Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg speaks during a campaign event in Muscatine, Iowa, on August 14, 2019.Alex Edelman / AFP - Getty Images file

While Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., propose eliminating private insurance in one fell swoop, Buttigieg wants the government to introduce a public plan that would be so competitive that Americans will ultimately choose voluntarily to abandon insurance companies.

"Freedom is one of the main themes of this campaign. And I do think commanding Americans to abandon the coverage they've got is inconsistent with our commitment to freedom," Buttigieg said. 

He said unlike his rivals' "Medicare for All" proposal, his plan allows for as long a transition period as necessary to get the public option up and running well, a concern highlighted by the disastrous rollout of the HealthCare.Gov online insurance marketplace during the Obama administration.

Buttigieg said leaving the current system intact while any unforeseen kinks in the public option are ironed out would be "far less traumatic" than putting the entire country in government-run health care all at once.

Buttigieg's plan hews closely to the proposal backed by former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic primary's front-runner. But their plans differ over how Americans would get enrolled in the new public plan and what subsidies would be available to help them pay for it.

Under Buttigieg's proposal, Americans would again be effectively required to maintain some type of health insurance, a requirement put in place by President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act but nullified by the Trump administration.

Americans whose incomes are so low that they're eligible for free coverage through Medicaid or the public option would be automatically enrolled, along with those eligible for "an affordable insurance option," although Buttigieg's plan doesn't explicitly define what constitutes affordable. Those Americans could opt out of the public option if they have private insurance, and even those with employer-provided insurance could choose to use the public option instead.

Those who aren't automatically enrolled and lack insurance would later be "retroactively enrolled" in the public plan. Buttigieg said they'd have to pay back premiums for the time they were uninsured if they get sick and need coverage.

But critics have long argued that allowing people to wait until they're sick to get insurance drives up health care costs because there are fewer healthier people — who cost less to insure — to pay into the system.

Buttigieg would also expand subsidies to help pay for premiums — currently limited to people whose incomes are less than four times the federal poverty level. Under his plan, Americans could buy into a "gold-level" public option at a premium capped at 8.5 percent of their income.

"This plan is not moderate by historical standards, but it certainly is moderate compared to Medicare for All," said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care policy. "It goes well beyond the Affordable Care Act in providing help paying for healthcare to a much larger number of people and taking significant steps to control costs."

As Buttigieg works to break into the top tier in the crowded Democratic race, his critiques of his competitors and their plans have become increasingly sharp and direct in recent weeks. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll this week found Buttigieg in fourth place at 7 percent, far behind Biden at 31 percent, Warren at 25 percent and Sanders at 14 percent.

In Facebook ads taking aim at Sanders and Warren over health care, Buttigieg has argued their vision would "dictate" a public option to Americans and "risk further polarizing them."

And although Warren and Sanders cite statistics showing Americans support Medicare for All, Buttigieg says in the NBC News interview that a closer look reveals that what the majority are thinking of when they hear "Medicare for All" is actually closer to his plan, not those of the two senators.

The Buttigieg plan also cracks down on exorbitant costs insurance companies charge for providers who are out-of-network by capping their reimbursement rates at double the rate that Medicare pays. It would also aim to end "surprise bills" that result when patients go to an in-network hospital but are unknowingly treated by an out-of-network provider working there.

Benjy Sarlin contributed

Pence taps former DHS press aide as new press secretary

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence has hired Katie Waldman to be his new press secretary, NBC News has learned.

Waldman, who is currently communications director for Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., previously served as the public defender of the Trump administration’s policy of family separations as deputy press secretary at the Department of Homeland Security.

She begins her new position on October 1.

“She’s got extensive experience and she’ll be a great fit in our office,” said Marc Short, Pence's chief of staff. “She’s shown she has the mettle to handle intense environments.”

Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the creation of Space Force at the Pentagon on Aug. 9, 2018.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the creation of Space Force at the Pentagon on Aug. 9, 2018.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

Waldman, 27, will replace Alyssa Farah who left earlier this month to be a spokeswoman at the Department of Defense.

Waldman is an aggressive and sometimes polarizing communicator but has proven to be a loyal advocate for the Trump administration and its policies.

During her nearly two-year stint at DHS, she was given the agency’s immigration portfolio and empowered to be the lead spokesperson. She consistently defended the administration’s policy of “zero tolerance” that led to the separation of thousands of children from their parents after crossing the southern border.

That experience has proven that she is battle-tested several allies of Waldman told NBC News. 

“She impressed a lot of people in the administration with her work in DHS and on the immigration portfolio in the height of media interest,” said a former DHS official who worked closely with her and is not authorized to speak publicly in a new position.

Waldman will be reporting directly to Short. She’ll be the on-the-record spokesperson for the vice president during a critical time as the president and vice president head into an election year.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who hired Waldman as his first press secretary after he won election to the Senate in 2014, said that Waldman is one of the hardest workers he’s ever met.

“She has a very strong personality,” Daines said. “She has incredible work ethic.”

A senior administration official who used to work at DHS with Waldman said that her experience working for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, two senators and the administration gives her a wide variety of experience.

And, the official added, “she’s pro-Trump and that checks all the boxes.”

Joe Kennedy to announce Massachusetts Senate primary bid against incumbent Ed Markey

WASHINGTON — Rep Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., will announce this weekend that he is launching a bid for the U.S. Senate, setting up a primary challenge to a fellow Democrat, incumbent Sen. Ed Markey, a source familiar with the decision confirms to NBC News.

The source added that Kennedy will announce the bid to supporters during a breakfast at East Boston Social Centers. 

The Boston Globe first reported Kennedy's decision. 

Image: Joe Kennedy III
Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., smiles on Capitol Hill on July 26, 2017 in Washington.Jacquelyn Martin / AP file

Kennedy's entry into the race had been long rumored, and the congressman himself previously acknowledged that he was considering a challenge to Markey.

The primary will pit the 38-year-old Kennedy, the fourth-term congressman who's part of one of America's most famous political dynasties, against the 73-year-old Markey, who first joined Congress as a member of the House in 1976. 

A recent poll by Suffolk University and the Boston Globe found that Kennedy would lead Markey by more than 8 points in a field of five primary candidates, and by 14 in a head-to-head primary matchup. 

But Markey has won endorsements in recent weeks from both Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, two prominent progressives.

Booker releases new labor plan as auto strike continues

MANCHESTER, NH — Presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is out with a new labor plan pegged to the ongoing auto strikes, a proposal that calls for empowering workers to take collective action, restructuring laws to help workers in the gig economy, enacting a slew of worker protections and overhauling America's tax laws. 

Citing the ongoing United Automobile Workers strikes, Booker said in a statement that he "learned the power of collective action from my grandfather who was an assembly line worker and UAW union rep in Detroit."

“He showed me how, when workers stick together, injustices can be corrected and real progress can be made," he said.

"That’s something I’ve carried with me my whole life — and today, as I stand with workers who are fighting for fairer wages and better benefits across the country, I’m outlining how my administration will ensure that our economy leaves no one behind.”

Image: BESTPIX - Democratic Presidential Candidate Cory Booker (D-NJ) Gives Address On Gun Violence And White Nationalism At Mother Emanuel AME Church
Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks to a crowd at Emanuel AME Church on Aug. 7, 2019 in Charleston, S.C.Sean Rayford / Getty Images file

His campaign proposal relies heavily on passing existing legislation and argues for his previously announced Rise Credit, which expands on the Earned Income Tax Credit by providing up to $4,000 to working Americans making less than $90,000 a year, including students and family caregivers as workers, and implementing automatic tax filings.

Notably, Booker’s signature Worker Dividend Act, a bill he sponsored in the Senate, would shift the balance of power from shareholders to workers by forcing corporations to share profits from stock buybacks with their employees.

Other highlights from Booker’s proposal include:

  • Strengthening collective bargaining and protect workers at the federal, state and local levels through legislation such as the PRO Act (protects rights to organize unions and strikes and bans “right to work” laws), Workplace Democracy Act, and Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.
  • Preventing misclassification among gig economy workers by shoring up regulations about when workers can be classified as independent contractors
  • Supporting efforts that allow workers from multiple employers to organize across industries, and also expand workforce training to include local sectoral programs
  • Ensuring federal funds and contracts support companies that provide adequate benefits, respect unions and pay at least $15 an hour
  • Fighting for a $15 minimum wage and closing the gender pay gap by passing his co-sponsored Raise the Wage Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act
  • Prohibiting mandatory arbitration clauses through the Restoring Justice for Workers Act
  • Providing guaranteed paid family leave for taking care of relatives by passing the FAMILY Act
  • Protecting workers from all types of discrimination and harassment through the pro-LGBT Equality Act, Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and Be HEARD Act
  • Investing federal dollars in affordable childcare by building on the Child Care for Working Families Act
  • Giving all Americans an opportunity to work by passing his Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act
  • Restructuring the American tax code by repealing the 2017 GOP tax bill, raising the rate for long-term capital games, adding an annual long-term investment tax for the wealthiest Americans, implementing a “deferral charge” for shifting investments, and closing loopholes that Booker says advantage the wealthiest households

Booker argues his tax reforms could raise as much as $2 trillion over ten years.

His plan also cites the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and Fairness for Farm Workers Acts and Fair Chance Act to ensure fairness for disadvantaged workers from communities of color and the formerly incarcerated, respectively.

Earlier this week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren nabbed the endorsement of the Working Families Party, a labor-focused progressive group that supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016.

ACLU dings Joe Biden in new radio ads

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union is pressuring Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden to clarify his positions on civil rights with a new ad campaign in the early primary state of South Carolina. 

The group is spending what it tells NBC News is "low six-figure" to run the ad on African-American radio stations in Charleston and Columbia. It follows digital ads and mailers the ACLU has already sent to 100,000 South Carolina voters asking, “Where is Joe Biden on civil rights?” 

The campaign is a response to the former vice president failing to respond to an ACLU effort asking all the 2020 candidates where they stand on civil liberties. 

"Most candidates in the recent debate answered our questions, but Joe Biden did not," the ad's narrator says. "You heard right, Joe Biden passed on a chance to make clear where he stands on voting rights, on criminal justice reform, on police misconduct. We asked how he would address the unnecessary use of force by police.... No response. Voters deserve to know. Does Joe Biden support rights for all?"

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro have also been hit with digital ads from the group for failing to respond, but Biden is a more valuable target given his standing in the polls.

Ronnie Newman, the national political director for the ACLU, said members of his group want "clear, on the record" assurances from every candidate they would use "the full weight" of the presidency to protect civil liberties. 

“This push is not about the narrow question of whether presidential candidates have returned the ACLU questionnaire, but instead about the broader, more fundamental question of whether candidates -- including Joe Biden -- will commit to prioritizing civil liberties and civil rights in their campaigns and eventually, in their presidency," Newman said. 

The ACLU has traditionally not involved itself much in elections, but has been looking to expand its reach outside the courtroom after receiving a flood of donations in the early days of Donald Trump's presidency and retooling itself for a more polarized world.

South Carolina, which will be the fourth state to vote in next year's primaries, is key to Biden's prospects and its Democratic electorate is expected to be majority-African American. 

The Biden campaign pointed NBC News to Jim Felder, a prominent civil rights activist with the NAACP and South Carolina Voter Education Project, who defended the former vice president and questioned why the ACLU was getting involved in a Democratic primary.

"Joe Biden, in my book, is number one on civil rights throughout the years," said Felder, who is supporting Biden. "I don't know of any situation where Joe Biden has been against civil rights."

Felder said he's supported and donated to the ACLU in the past, but that the attack on Biden "just floors me," adding that he had not seen the group be particularly active in South Carolina in recent years. "And why are they getting involved in the presidential race? To jump on candidates like this seems to be a little stretch outside what they typically do," he said.

UPDATED: This post was updated to include a comment from a Biden surrogate. 

As Harris falters, campaign and allies mull next steps

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., once viewed as a top-tier contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, has lost considerable ground in the crowded field while other candidates are picking up steam.

With just over four months left until Iowa’s leadoff caucuses, Harris has fallen to five percent support in the latest NBC/WSJ poll released Tuesday, putting her in fifth place behind former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

It’s a precipitous drop for the former California attorney general, who entered the presidential race with a huge rally in her hometown of Oakland last January. She jumped to prominence after the first nationally televised Democratic debate in June, where she called out Biden, the field’s front-runner, over his past statements on public school busing.

Harris has faded since then. Her second debate performance, in July, was panned as she defended her record as a prosecutor and worked to explain her position on healthcare reform. She did little to bounce in the third debate earlier this month, casting much of her attention toward President Trump.

And she’s had a light campaign schedule this summer.

When Harris returns to Iowa this weekend for the Polk County Democrats’ Steak Fry, it’ll be her first trip to the state in over a month. She’s visited just 18 of Iowa’s 99 counties so far. 

It’s been more than two months since her last visit to South Carolina, where Harris, who is African American, is counting on a robust showing among black voters who make up the majority of the state’s Democratic primary voters.  

And Harris has been in New Hampshire just once in the last two months.

Image: Kamala Harris
An attendee takes a picture with Senator Kamala Harris during the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. Annual Pink Ice Gala in Columbia, South Carolina, on Jan. 25, 2019.Elijah Nouvelage / Bloomberg via Getty Images

By comparison, Biden has campaigned actively in the early contest states. Since August 1, the former vice president has been to Iowa three times, New Hampshire twice and South Carolina twice. He’s also been to 21 of Iowa’s 99 counties, despite having entered the race in April, three months after Harris.

And through the summer, Warren has held well-attended rallies in St. Paul, Seattle, Oakland, Austin and New York City.

Harris, however, has spent much of the summer on a fundraising spree. She held fundraising events in Chicago and New York City last weekend, skipping a major labor summit in Philadelphia on Tuesday to raise money in the Baltimore area instead.

Harris advisers say the candidate will continue to prioritize fundraising ahead of the Sept. 30 third-quarter fundraising deadline. The California senator raised $12 million in the second quarter, less than Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg. 

With falling poll numbers and a sparse campaign schedule, Harris is in need of a healthy fundraising haul to sustain a robust operation heading into the winter.

Campaign spokesman Ian Sams told NBC the campaign wants to “make sure we have the nest egg to be competitive and viable through March” and insisted the candidate will be “on the trail a lot more” come October.

“We’re not playing to win a summer news cycle in the off-year,” Sams said. “We’re playing to win an election. We’re aiming to peak at the turn of the year when we’re approaching votes – and we’re built to do that.”

“Horse-race polling be damned,” he added.

But part of Harris’ struggles comes down to voters’ lack of familiarity with the third-year California senator. 

In the new NBC/WSJ poll, 15 percent of Democratic primary voters said they didn't know her name. By comparison, just 7 percent said that about Warren, and 1 percent said that about Biden and Sanders.

Austin Healy, a 31-year-old Texan who voted for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the state’s 2016 primary, attended an early September campaign rally for Warren in Austin that drew thousands. He told NBC News that he “originally liked [Harris] in the beginning” but followed: “I don’t really know what she stands for – there’s not really a clear message for me.”

Harris, an Oakland native who first served as San Francisco’s District Attorney before becoming California’s attorney general, has also struggled to change perceptions about her time in law enforcement.

It’s a point of frustration for Lateefah Simon, a long-time mentee of Harris who said she was “yelling at the TV” while watching the third debate, imploring Harris to tell the stories that define her record as a progressive prosecutor.

 

Image: Senator Kamala Harris speaks during the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Houston
Sen. Kamala Harris from California speaks during the 2020 Democratic presidential debate in Houston on Sept. 12, 2019.Mike Blake / Reuters

Simon, who now works on criminal justice reform in California, says Harris needs to “tell it raw” and invoke her personal experiences.

Simon recalls a moment when Harris, then a district attorney, was comforting a mother whose daughter had been killed. When the victim’s mother came into Harris’ office sobbing after the killer’s trial, Harris got down on her knees with her.

“I’m here with you. Look at me. I’m here with you,” Harris had said, their foreheads touching, Simon recounted.

“I have watched her not tell these stories,” Simon recalls. “Why don’t you talk about Claire? You hired me. Why don’t you tell that story?”

Deb Mesloh, a longtime Harris friend and campaign adviser, told NBC News that she has learned to never doubt Harris because she’s shown resilience in tough elections for her district attorney and attorney general posts.  But Mesloh acknowledged the scale of running for president limits the opportunities for Harris to make personal connections with voters.

“What I’d love to see is for her to continue to share her personal story and for her to continue to talk about her life history and the things that inform her leadership and connect with voters in a one-on-one sense so they get to know her,” Mesloh said.

Sams, the Harris campaign spokesman, said the campaign knows it is working up against candidates, namely Biden, Sanders and Warren, who had built-in national reputations before declaring their presidential bids.

“Voters need to understand who you are. They need to understand why you’re running,” Sams said. “The three people atop the polls have been well known nationally for a long time and have strong brands...all the others of us who have not been national figures before have to do even more to tell people what we’re about and get it to stick.”

Michael Bennet targets Iowa Caucus-goers with new TV ad

DES MOINES, IA — Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is the latest candidate to hit TV screens in Iowa with two 30-second ads titled, “Most,” and “Truth. Bennet failed to qualify for the September debate stage and is still struggling to meet the October threshold. The campaign hopes the new ads will introduce potential caucus-goers to the candidate.

“Not enough people have had the chance to meet him or learn what drives him,” campaign spokeswoman Shannon Beckham said. “These ads show who Michael is and how he’s different from other candidates.”

The combined ad buys will ultimately hit a seven-figure spend across TV and digital platforms, according to the campaign. Ad-buy trackers show that the initial TV buys cost the campaign nearly $200,000 with more investment to come over the next several weeks in Iowa, and other early states like New Hampshire. 

That's a significant investment considering Bennet’s campaign ended the second quarter with only $2.2 million in the bank, per FEC filings. In contrast, Tom Steyer has already spent $4.5 million on the air in Iowa, while Joe Biden’s invested $688,000, with Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris trailing closely behind with $635,000 and $562,000 investments, respectively. 

In the ad titled “Most,” Bennet discusses how he’s dedicated his political career to “tackling tough problems,” including jobs, education and immigration reform to make Washington “work for the people again.” Bennet closes the ad focusing on health care saying, “As president, I’ll get everyone covered with a public option or keeping the health plans they already have.”

Bennet has separated himself from the more progressive wing of the Democratic candidates by opposing Medicare for All plans.

Health care  is also the central focus of Bennet's second ad, "Truth." The ad starts with a narrator talking about  how Bennet “pounds truth into the campaign.” 

“The truth is a health care plan that starts by kicking people off their coverage makes no sense,” Bennet says in the ad. “Before we go and blow up everything let’s try this.”

“This” is Bennet’s "Medicare X Plan,” which would allow people to keep their current health care plan or buy into a public option.

Iowans will remember a push in ad spending by former Democratic candidate Kirsten Gillibrand earlier this summer before she ultimately dropped out of the race after failing to qualify for the September debates. 

Bennet’s ads will broadcast in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, in addition to CNN and MSNBC.

Elizabeth Warren's anti-corruption speech highlights

NEW YORK — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., laid out her new anti-corruption proposal in a speech at  Washington Square Park last night.

The speech attracted an audience of 20,000, according to Warren’s campaign.

Here are some highlights of her speech: 

Government corruption has caused "extinction of species", "children slaughtered by assault weapons" and "crippling student loan debt"

Standing in the shadows of one of the U.S.'s most expensive universities, New York University, Warren said that she "has a plan" to root out corruption in government. She blamed that "corruption" for why the government hasn't done enough to stop the ballooning student loan debt, climate change and gun control. 

"Corporate lawyers" as federal judge appointees rule "against vulnerable people" 

Warren lambasted corporate lawyers who make their way to the federal judiciary and rule in "favor of corporations". And she said that "right-wing groups have spent millions of dollars" to ram through unqualified nominees.

As Warren said in the last Democratic presidential debate, she practiced law "for about 45 minutes" before becoming a law professor. 

Warren: "We're here because of some hard-working women" 

At the top of Warren's remarks, she addressed the role that women have played in the fight against corruption, using the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 to make a point about systemic corruption. 

"For years, across the city, women factory workers and their allies had been sounding the alarm about dangerous and squalid conditions—fighting for shorter hours and higher pay," she said, before adding that "the fat profits were making New York’s factory owners rich.

"Take any big problem we have in America today and you don’t have to dig very deep to see the same system at work."

Trump expected to rake in $15 million in 24 hours in California

RIO RANCHO, N.M. – After rallying Latino supporters here Monday in a state he lost handily in 2016, President Donald Trump heads to another Democratic stronghold for a two-day fundraising swing in one of his most frequent political targets: California.

The president is expected to raise a whopping $15 million there in about 24 hours for his re-election effort, according to a Republican official familiar with the planning of the events.

Trump will travel to the Bay Area on Tuesday for the first time since taking office to headline a fundraiser lunch that has been shrouded in secrecy. Very few details have been provided, given the protests that broke out when then-candidate Trump campaigned in the region in 2016. 

The Silicon Valley fundraising lunch is expected to bring in $3 million, ahead of a visit to Southern California for various events in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles and San Diego. Those gatherings will rake in $5 million, $3 million and $4 million respectively. 

The fundraisers are scheduled to be hosted by Trump Victory, a joint committee between the Trump 2020 campaign and the Republican National Committee. The following individuals are listed as co-hosts, according to “save the date” invites reviewed by NBC News: RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, co-chair Tommy Hicks Jr., RNC Finance Chairman Todd Ricketts and Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.

This will mark Trump’s fourth trip to the Golden State since taking office. On his first trip, he inspected border wall prototypes and held a fundraiser in Beverly Hills (March 2018). On the second trip, Trump visited areas devastated by wildfires and met with families affected by the Thousand Oaks shooting (November 2018). The third trip was for another border wall visit and fundraiser in Southern California (April 2019).

Image: Donald Trump border wall prototypes
President Donald Trump reviews border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018,Evan Vucci / AP